extended Opus image

 

Lent – Day Forty
So, today brings our Lenten journey together to an end. Perhaps it might be good for us to think for a moment about what it is that we have been doing, and why? The first written record we have of a season of preparation prior to Easter was by Irenaus, who lived in the second century. It was much shorter, just two or perhaps three days (a better length for people like me), and was to be a time of self-denial and self-examination. Lent (or a season of preparation before Easter), then, is one of the oldest observances in the church’s history. Thus, we have been participating in an ancient tradition, one that eventually grew to be forty days in length.

We all know how important preparation is. We have studied for tests, memorized music for concerts, lifted weights for football, cleaned the house before a party, shopped for the perfect dress for prom, made travel plans. That kind of preparation is easier to observe, in part because it has an actually observable outcome. The kind of preparation we have been doing is less discernible and its impact on the following celebration (and our lives) is less clear.

I doubt very much that any of us have just walked up to the counter at the airport, looked to see where the airline was flying today, and purchased tickets to a place where we have made no reservations and have no plans. That is not a spontaneity that I can relate with. But perhaps it is a similar experience that many a church goer will have tomorrow.

Lent, I think, is about intentionality. It’s about taking our spiritual life seriously on a daily basis, even a moment by moment basis. Who knows when that craving for chocolate will arrive? We live busy lives, perhaps too busy. Too often we run from event to event never having time to enjoy any of them. Lent says, “Slow down! Take a minute to think about what you are doing and why you are doing it!? You’ll enjoy it more, and it will be more meaningful!”

I hope these postings have been that minute (or two) for you. And I hope after you have put on your best Easter outfit and you head to the church of your choice, that you will know why you are there and what you are celebrating.

 

Lent – Day Thirty-nine
Kinda preachy yesterday! This Facebook/blog kind of thing is harder than I thought, even after doing it last year. It is difficult to write everyday. I’m sure you figured out which days those were! It is also difficult to think of things to write about everyday. Choosing this as a Lenten practice has been really good for me, but it has been hard.

I want to thank all of you who have read any or all of these posts. It is humbling to think that you might have an interest in what I have to say. If not, please know that I sometimes don’t have an interest in what I am saying either. I’m fortunate to have a wide variety of FB friends. From all the places I’ve lived; all the schools I’ve attended; all the churches I’ve served as pastor; most of my family; former students. Some of you clearly are deeply spiritual, some less so, and some not at all. But we are still friends.

I try to write in a style, that, as best I am able, speaks to each of you, at least once in a while. I have tried not to over focus on the church and Christian spirituality, but that is who I am and what I know best. For some of you, that attempt has been successful. For others, I have likely failed at both ends of the spectrum, from too churchy to not churchy enough.

Now we are down to the final two Lenten posts for this year. If the purpose of Lent is to add a new layer to our spiritual lives, I hope I have done that for you. If the purpose is to foster unintelligent navel gazing, I hope I have not done that for you. If the purpose is to stay connected with friends and share life stories, then I hope you think this successful.

Lent is a time when…

I hope it has been for you.

 

Lent – Day Thirty-eight
With the arrival of Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday, depending on what name you give to the Thursday of Holy Week, we come face to face with the human condition. Yes, we are all created in the image of God (imago Dei), but none of has been able to keep that image untarnished. Who among us has not betrayed a friend? Who among us has not denied our faith. Who among us has not been swept along with a crowd advocating for a death sentence, whether through slander or hatred? And who among us has not shaken our heads and derided someone, even someone we have loved?

While Easter and Christmas Eve are likely the two most well attended services in every church, Holy Thursday and especially Holy Friday are likely the least well attended. We like babies and we like the promise of new life and transformation. What we don’t like is having to do personal reflection – self-evaluation.

From my perspective, forty days of such spiritual probing is too much, but three days (including Holy Saturday) is not. It is about what we need.

What can help us keep perspective on our own short-comings is to be surrounded by others, purposefully participating in the same discernment process. That is what the church offers in her songs and prayers, symbolic acts and spoken words. We need the presence of others so the needed solitude doesn’t slip into feelings of isolation and aloneness.

Brian Wren, my favorite contemporary word-smith, has written a stark but helpful hymn called “Here Hangs a Man Discarded.” For some this may seem almost blasphemous, for others – like me – it speaks to that place where I have no words – no way to give voice to my humanity that often does not reflect imago Dei.

Here hangs a man discarded,
a scarecrow hoisted high,
a nonsense pointing nowhere
to all who hurry by.

Can such a clown of sorrows
still bring a useful word
where faith and love seem phantoms
and every hope absurd.

Yet here is help and comfort
to lives by comfort bound
when drums of dazzling progress
give strangely hallow sound:

Life emptied of all meaning,
drained out in bleak distress,
can share in broken silence
our deepest emptiness;

And love that freely entered
the pit of life’s despair
can name our hidden darkness
and suffer with us there.

Lord, [since] you now are risen,
help all who long for light
to hold the hand of promise
till faith receives its sight.

 

Lent – Day Thirty-seven
Is it for aesthetics? Is it for a convenient workout space? Is it to keep horses from jumping the fence? Is it for leading horses to pasture? Is it to keep stallions separated from other horses – say mares and geldings?

It is a perfect Spring day in the Bluegrass. The temperature is about 70. There is little or no wind. The sun is shining brightly. The grass is green and the trees are budding/flowering. So I chose to drive Old Frankfort Pike between Lexington and Frankfort. It is a Scenic Highway running though beautiful horse farms.

As I drove, I once again (meaning I almost always do) wondered about the reason for the parallel wooden fences that surround some of the pastures. I know that I have been asked that questions by friends and family when they visit, and I never have an answer. So, I asked Siri. Yes, I know I shouldn’t use my phone while driving, but I was going slow and I wanted to know. And, I asked, I didn’t text.

Siri was pretty much useless. She/he/it referred me to a book on fencing. Well, I was looking for her/he/it to tell me the answer. Out loud. So I set down my phone and enjoyed the beautiful day and lovely scenery.

Of course, I couldn’t stop thinking about the double fences. And that led me to think about our access to information (or non-access). In my Sunday Faith Formation class it is not unusual for someone to pull out their phone in order to answer some question that has left us in a quandary. When I can’t remember where to find the scripture verse I am thinking about, I just Google a few of the words. When I want to contact someone I don’t have a number for, I use the online White Pages. And my spell-checker fixes my misspelling as I word-process.

I have a dictionary and thesaurus. I have a concordance to find scripture verses. I have a number of phone books. Now, a set of encyclopedias I don’t have.

These are the best of times and these are the worst of times.

The convenience is fantastic. The instant response is gratifying. The amount of information available is dumbfounding. But my brain is mush. Things I used to know, I no longer know. And I can’t seem to convince myself that there is a good reason for me to actually learn anything new, or relearn anything I used to know.

Still, this was the absolute best day of Lent. I went for a ride (it had a purpose, but after visiting the hospital, I repurposed the ride home). I slowed down. I normally speed, a little… but I was 8 mph under today. I knew what I was going to write as soon as got back to my office. I have a better idea of why some of the horse farms uses double fencing. And I prayed a lot, thinking about how beautiful it was and how fortunate I am.

Isn’t Lent grand!

 

Lent – Day Thirty-six
It’s raining here again. Every time I try to schedule time to mow the lawn it rains. I was going to do it this morning before coming to work. I thought that I could come in a little later, say around 10:15, as I have a wedding consult at 10:30, but it’s raining again. The lawn needs mowing. It’s too long by a long-shot. But mowing it while it is wet will just produce clumps that will sit there and kill the grass it is resting upon. And our lawn already has too many brown spots.

Its hard to believe that it is just a few week until the Kentucky Derby. The Derby may very well be the most important event in all of Kentucky every year. It takes the city of Louisville about six-weeks to celebrate the “Run for the Roses.” The celebration is limited to just one day in Frankfort, but it’s a big deal, just the same. At one time The Governor’s Derby Breakfast was the annual Frankfort celebration. It was held on the Capital lawn and featured free breakfast and other assorted activities. That was when the Commonwealth of Kentucky had money. There is no longer a free breakfast, nor is it held on the Capital lawn. It has moved downtown. The Governor often doesn’t even show up.

And parties. There is Derby party on every block. People bring food and beverages and enjoy 45 minutes of convivial conversation interrupted by very short periods of racing. And there is a lot of wagering. Every party has come kind of a “board.” And there are wagers to be made on every race. I’ve never been to a party where there were large wagers. Apparently I don’t know anyone with money to spare. But I still make an occasional $2 bet – always on the long-shot.

Betting a long-shot is like playing the lottery; there is very little chance that you will win, but if you do, it will be a big deal. We like to get something for nothing (or almost nothing). And it is such thinking that often gets us in trouble. Take credit cards. All of sudden you have a bank someplace telling you that you have $5,000 to spend. And all you did was fill out a form at a kiosk at the airport. Too often, that means trouble.

I don’t know where that something for nothing thinking began. (The book of Genesis says something about some fruit on some tree.) But it is deeply embedded in us. It infects every part of our lives. We clip coupons to save money on stuff we don’t need to purchase. We get money back on cars that we don’t need to buy. We get a free book on making our million by flipping houses with no investment of our own money.

Lent comes reminding us, if we will listen, that there is nothing that is free – not even a long-shot. Except grace.

 

Lent – Day Thirty-five
Sometimes our hopes and dreams are delayed. We want them to be met, to be reached, to be fulfilled quickly. Just as we pretty much want everything else immediately too. Sometimes our dreams are attainable. Sometimes they are simply dreams.

Yesterday, Sergio Garcia won one of golf’s four Major events. At thirty-seven years of age, he had been trying to do so, four times a year, for nearly twenty years. Until yesterday, he was known as the best golfer playing in the PGA without a Major championship. His reaction to winning was almost primal.

I’m certain he had dreamed of winning a Major for more years than he has been a professional golfer. I feel certain that there were times when he wondered if it would ever happen. But he didn’t give up. He played in every Major tournament on the schedule. Between the PGA Tournaments and the European Tournaments, he played almost weekly. And he practiced, hour after hour, week after week, year after year. In other words, he never gave up on his dream.

I confess that I have given up on some of my dreams, dreams that perhaps could have been attainable, had I kept with it? In a couple cases, those dreams were replaced with new ones. In some cases, I simply gave up, rationalizing them away as if they were simply…dreams.

When I am honest, I must confess that I have been too lazy to do the work necessary to attain any of those dreams. That’s the rub. Often, we think that dreams simply come to pass, but nothing could be further from the truth. Dreams come to life as we consistently work toward their attainment. The fulfillment of dreams most almost never happens without preparation, practice, partnership and pursuit.

Entering the final week of our Lenten journey, it seems a good time to look at how we are doing with our spiritual dreams. Has this Lenten season served to move us closer to our goals? Are we ready to continue the things we have been working on now, after Easter? And, since most dreams require help from others, have we put together a team to help us attain our dreams? There’s still time. It’s never too late to have dreams.

 

Lent – Day Thirty-four
I use GPS often. I like it as it relieves me from constantly needing to look at a map. But as with social media, I think we may have lost more than we think. With text messaging, Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest and others, we have become experts at all things precise. With limits on letters and instant pictures, communication has morphed it a new stage of conversation. The end of non-verbal communication has arrived.

One might say it began with the telephone, the death of non-verbal communication. But at least we were still able to listen for vocal infection and sense the animation in the voice. Now we send messages and use “Emoji” to communicate emotions. Although I use texting all the time, I mostly find it less than satisfying.

As I said before, I also use GPS all the time. I also find it dissatisfying. While it usually gets me to the proper location, when I arrive I have no idea where I am. Did I travel north or south. Or was it east or west. What are the neighboring towns? What county is it? Are there lakes nearby? Or rivers? Where is the nearest campground or park?

“The journey is the destination.”

I don’t know where I first heard or saw those words of wisdom? If “the journey is the destination” is true, then aren’t we moving further and further from our destination? We have replaced the journey with speed and ease. Rather than discovering the joys of uncovering diamonds in the rust, we pass by totally unaware of their possibility. When we arrive, we are lost. When we text, we are confused. We have passed by exposure to the little but profound things that make life beautiful.

There is just one week left in Lent. How about fasting from GPS and texting? How about using a map and speaking face to face? How about making the journey the destination!

 

Lent – Day Thirty-three
There are few things better to eat than grilled cheese and tomato soup. There are many other good comfort food choices – meatloaf, pizza, mac and cheese, spaghetti – but grilled cheese with tomato soup is my top choice. I suppose one’s comfort food choices are a reflection of one’s upbringing? In the world of fast food, it may we’ll be that a Big Mac or a Whopper might be considered comfort foods?

I wonder, what is your spiritual comfort food? Perhaps it’s a favorite hymn or song? Perhaps it’s a favorite scripture verse? Perhaps it’s a saying or phrase? Or perhaps it’s a favorite activity or location? Or perhaps it’s a favorite season? Again, I expect our favorite spiritual comfort food might be a reflection of our upbringing?

While it might be nice to eat comfort food all the time, it probably wouldn’t be wise. Comfort food seems to usually be high in fat, high in sugar, high in cholesterol and high in calories? We need to balance our desire for comfort food and with our need for a healthy diet. It is perfectly all right to indulge our comfort food craving once in a while, but only once in a while.

I think the same is true of our spiritual comfort food. Often it is high in sentimentality and overly emotional? Theologically it may perpetuate an immature understanding of faith? One of the writers of scripture, maybe thinking of spiritual comfort food, referred to it as milk?

I am not suggesting we give up enjoying our comfort food, whether edible or spiritual, but I think it important that we chew on some of the more difficult “food” to digest. And I can’t think of a better time than as we move ever closer to the end of our Lenten journey.

 

Lent – Day Thirty-two
Sometimes, when I am having difficulty coming up with something to say (I know you can’t believe that happens!), I Google the date to see what might have happened in history. I did so today. On April 6, 1930, James Dewar invented Twinkies.

It has been many years since I devoured my last Twinkie. I can still remember the sweet tasting cake and the even sweeter cream filling. I wish I had invented it. Others have marketed similar snack cakes, but none of them have equaled a Hostess Twinkie. I imagine that somewhere in the Lenten world, there is someone who has chosen to give up eating Twinkies for Lent.

It’s my guess that more than a few of us have a “Twinkie” spiritual life. Sweet. Simple. Grab and go. Totally non-nutritious. A sugar high. I’m not sure if hunger comes into Twinkie eating? I think it may simply be an impulse snacking. There is a good deal of “Twinkie” spiritual snack food out there. Like a Twinkie display, these kinds of spiritual snack foods are gratuitously displayed near the checkout to entice impulse buyers. I am certain that some of my missives have offered little more than Twinkie spirituality.

There may be a perfect time for eating a Twinkie and there may be a good time for “eating” the spiritual version, but a steady diet will likely lead to something akin to spiritual diabetes. If it’s easy to read and quick to digest, it likely won’t stick to one’s “ribs.”

Living a spiritual life is not easy. The food one needs to ingest must be as healthy as complex carbohydrates and as muscle nurturing as protein. One must spend time in the spiritual gym of prayer. One must practice daily, always seeking healthy fitness. And one must have the right Work-out Partner.

 

Lent – Day Thirty-one
The tulips are up on Capital Avenue. The first pitch of the year has been thrown. They tee-off at the Masters tomorrow. Holy Week is just around the corner. The Derby is coming soon. The “opener” can’t be far behind. (For all my non-Minnesota friends, that is when the season for walleye fishing begins.)

Spring is such a great time of year. There are times when I think I prefer Fall, with its brilliant display of color and moderating temperatures, but I always come back to Spring as my favorite season.

Daylight lengthens. Nighttime shortens. Temperatures warm. Sweaters get put away. Widows open. Cars get washed. Horses run. Golf clubs are swung. Bikers ride. Walkers walk. Outside grilling. Porch sitting. Easter.

Spring is the season of “do-overs.” Trees bud and leaves sprout. Flowers grow and bloom. Lawns, dormant for months turn green and need to be cut. Decks, barren for months are decorated with tables, chairs and couches. Houses need paint. Sidewalks get washed. Gardens get mulched. Seeds are planted.

If there is a theme which runs through all of this, it is being outside. We are blessed to have such a wonderful world. It’s easy to take it for granted. It’s easy to complain about all that goes into making our small plot beautiful. The Earth is sacred, for it is the source of life. Spring is the natural phenomena that reinforces for us both its vitality and its fragility. We must never take her for granted.

In the bulb there us a flower;
in the seed an apple tree;
in cocoons, a hidden promise;
butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter
there’s a spring that waits to be,
unrevealed until its season,
something God alone can see. (Natalie Sleeth)

Lent – Day Thirty

We are three-fourths of our way through Lent. If we are participating in a Lenten fast, we only have one-fourth of our fast remaining.

I always wonder about the reasons one has when one chooses to fast during Lent. Don’t get me wrong, I think it a good idea, but fear most of us participate in a useless practice. I’ve addressed the idea that a “self-help” fast is a waste of time. And choosing to fast as a way of appeasing a vengeful god who demands some kind of a sacrifice, is hardly helpful. So, if we don’t do it for ourselves and we don’t do it to appease God, then why are we doing it?

I suppose our most obvious reason might be that we fast as a demonstration of our gratitude for Divine grace in our lives? Or, perhaps it is an act of love? It could be a practice of self-denial?

But isn’t there an inherent selfishness in fasting? Doesn’t it become about me and my ability to be disciplined? Can I not eat meat on Fridays? Can I give up chocolate for 40 days? Can I write a daily Facebook post?

It seems to me, that a fast that would be meaningful and have some positive outcomes would be a fast that is done for the benefit of others. Instead of giving up Starbucks for six weeks, how about making sure that 365 days a year that the coffee we drink is Fair Trade Coffee? Or, instead of giving up purchasing any new clothes during Lent, how about purchasing something everyday for someone who actually needs new clothes? Or how about being a better father, or mother, or son, or daughter, or friend, or colleague? Or maybe one could be in church at least 40 Sundays during the year?

“This is the kind of fast day I’m after: to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts. What I’m interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families.” (Isaiah 58 The Message)

 

Lent – Day Twenty-nine
Outraged! It’s been a while since I have felt outrage. Upset? Yes. Anger? Yes. Frustrated? Yes. Outraged? Not for a while.

There was time when I could “ride” an official. Westling coaches are notorious for complaining about calls and non-calls. Back then, I fit in pretty well with that crowd. I could get on football officials too, but usually left that to the Head Coach. But I have always appreciated officials. They have a very difficult job and I think the do the best they can.

Perhaps my sabbatical from outrage has been a result of becoming pretty disengaged from sports. No longer coaching. Seldom a fan. And of all the sports to be outraged at the officiating? Golf! LPGA golf! Now granted, this outrage has no place in a Lenten posting, except that this is Lent and my outrage began last night.

I am outraged for Lexi Thompson.

If you are a golfer or if you follow golf, you know that golf is pretty much self-policed. You play the ball where it lies. Only an official can grant relief. When you mark your ball, you replace it in the same place.

Here is where it gets sticky. Ms. Thompson marked her ball before putting on the 17th green on Saturday. She replaced her ball and made the short putt. When she finished the round she signed her scorecard and turned it in.

Fast-forward to Sunday. The players have all teed-off for the final round. They were well into play and Lexi had a three stroke lead. But someone, someone not at all associated with the tournament, emailed the LPGA Officials, informing them that during the previous round, Ms. Thompson had not returned her ball to the exact spot where she had marked the ball. When she picked up her ball, you could not see her marker. But when she replaced her ball, you could see some of her marker exposed.

So, about twenty hours after the ball was mistakenly replaced – TWENTY HOURS! – misplaced by less than inch, the officials enforced a four stroke penalty. 2 for misplacing her ball. 2 for signing her scorecard, which 18 HOURS after she finished playing was determined to be incorrect because of the penalty she didn’t know she had – because at the time she had not been penalized!

Four stoke penalty because of an email – EMAIL – from someone not – NOT – associated with the tournament!

I don’t know Ms. Thompson. But you don’t get to the point of excellence to compete at the highest level by intentionally cheating, and cheating on a two foot putt – TWO FOOT. And you shouldn’t have a major tournament stollen from you by an email.

Okay, enough of that, but in the midst of this Lenten season, I have been reminded that life is not fair. More importantly, I have been reminded that being off – even an inch off – can have real consequences. Little things matter. (And you never know who is watching.)

 

Lent – Day Twenty-eight
Dogs are different than cats. Although they have many traits in common. Just as all animals have shared characteristics. Four legs. Two eyes. Two ears. Tails. Fur/hair. But dogs are different than cats.

My last couple of days have been spent with two dogs and zero cats. That will change this afternoon. I’ve been with these two particular dogs many times. They have stopped barking as if I am a stranger. Perhaps it is not all dogs who have routines, but these dogs do. They know exactly what the morning will look like. When they will go outside. When they will eat. When the paper will be read. When it’s time for their morning constitutional. They also have an evening routine. It includes treats for tricks.

Our cats have a morning routine too. They pretty much do whatever they want – when they want. However, it does include treats. Some days all five show up for treats. Some days as few as one.

Cats and dogs are both affectionate. Dogs seem to like to lick the face. Cats, less so. Dogs jump up and down and wag their tails when they see a friendly face. Cats may slowly wander in and take a look, just to check it out – Or not. Dogs come when you call them. Cats, less so. Both dogs and cats will lay on your lap. Dogs, most any lap any time. Cats, only at their whim.

I am, mostly kidding, except when I’m not. Both cats and dogs are good pets.

There are also dog people and cat people. They too are different. Both looking for different things in their animal friends. There are, of coarse, people that are both cat and dog people. And, there are also people who want nothing to do with either cats or dogs.

I can’t help but wonder why we are more accepting of the differences in people as related to their pets, than we are as related to anything else. Religion. Politics. Race. Orientation. Ethnicity. Sports allegiances. We don’t shun a cat person just because they are a cat person. We don’t hate a dog person just because they are a dog person.

How can we use this season of Lent to explore our biases and prejudices that are based on grouping people together by some single trait or characteristic? Is it possible for us to use this time to intentionally engage persons who are different? Especially, can we see them as cat lovers or dog lovers instead of all the other labels which are inherently negative.

Of coarse, if one judges people because they are dog or cat lovers – or both – one is going to be unlikely to be able set aside any other prejudice either.

 

Lent – Day Twenty-seven
Fresh air is a good thing. Unless it’s not. All “fresh air” is not fresh. Sometimes it’s foul. Usually, the further we get a way from civilization the fresher the air. Usually.

During Lent at FCC we have thinking about the wildernesses in our lives. One of the characteristics of wilderness is that it is a place of solitude. One need not leave civilization to achieve solitude, but I think it is easier if we do. Solitude is nothing like isolation. Isolation is embedded with aloneness. Solitude, I think, is embedded with Presence.

When I went to bed last night it was storming. Thunder. Lightening. Sheeting rain. Hail. Wind. When I awoke this morning it was calm. I think that’s the way with solitude. Solitude comes after a storm for most of us, although a few of us are mindful of our need for solitude and seek it as part of our spiritual practice.

Solitude is not magic, nor is it particularly mysterious. It may be found in a cup of morning coffee while sitting on the deck and listening to the birds making their nests or feeding their young. Solitude is about awareness. Many today refer to it as mindfulness. It is seeking a oneness with nature; our own human nature and the natural beauty that surrounds us. It is blending in with our surroundings in such a way so as to not influence our surroundings by our presence.

It is listening to the birds singing, the squirrels chattering, the grasses growing, the flowers opening. It is to watch the ants as they go about their business of harvesting food and bringing it back for the entire community to share. It is to listen to the heart beating rhythmically and sensing the breath coming in and going out. It is to breathe deeply and smell the freshness entering the body. It is to be one with ourselves as well as one with the earth. It is to not be afraid.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside still waters;
He restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
For his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil; for you are with me;
Your rod and your staff-
They comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
In the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life,
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
My whole life long.

 

Lent – Day Twenty-six
I am very good at fishing. I am very bad at catching. There is almost never a time when I catch the biggest nor the most fish. Still, I enjoy fishing. Enjoy the time away. Enjoy being on the water. Fishing in Minnesota is primarily walleye fishing. At least it was for me. Fishing in Kentucky is primarily smallmouth bass fishing. The two are as different as, say, putt putt golf and golf.

I am gradually learning about the difference between the best equipment for catching bass and the equipment I have had for walleye fishing. It is a rather expensive lesson. Different rods. Different reels. Different tackle. Different technique. If one is just a casual fisher – meaning happy to catch whatever – then the equipment is less important. But if one going to be serious…

There are almost as many fishing stories which include Jesus, as there are eating stories. I like to do both, so, perhaps I would have enjoyed being one of his disciples? But I am not very good at listening to advice and following instructions, so, perhaps I would have been a very poor disciple.

I’ve wondered about Jesus’ invitation to become a fisher of humans. Did he mean any kind of human or just a certain sort? Wouldn’t it be wise to have the proper equipment to fish for a specific type of person? Or, was Jesus advocating a “one size fits all” mentality?

It seems to me that Jesus used one kind of bait while fishing for the little fish of rural Judea and another kind of bait when fishing for the religious lunkers. So, I wonder, what kind of “bait” attracted you? Was it live bait? Or was it artificial? Did you take it hook-line-and-sinker. Or did you just nibble? Or perhaps you never took the bait at all?

I think I may be a nibbler? I always have to look at things from multiple angles. I need to consider what others think. I seldom take a certain line and run with it. Doesn’t make me better or worse than anyone, it just means we are all different.

So, what kind of spiritual fish are you? And on the other hand, what kind of fish are you fishing for?

 

Lent – Day Twenty-five
We have five cats. Yes, I said five. One has been with us since before our wedding, having first been Jennifer’s cat. The other four have joined our happy band in the last couple years. We have two sets of siblings: a sister and brother, and, two brothers. They bring us a lot of joy and laughter. From time to time they also bring frustration and confusion.

Gracie, named for Jennifer’s grandmother, is a beautiful black and white cat. Except for a white tip on his tail and a black goatee, Gracie and brother Drew are pretty much identical. Gracie is affectionate. She lays for hours on Jennifer’s lap and often lays on my chest – when I’m supposed to be asleep. She always needs to be where the actions is, whether we are cooking, washing dishes or working on the computer. Drew is also affectionate, but on his own terms. He likes to be petted on the stairs. Yes, on the stairs. He will run a couple steps ahead of me and stop, right in the middle of the step. He won’t move until he has had sufficient petting. He also likes his belly rubbed, but only in the middle of the night, when I’d much rather to be sleeping. Drew has very good hygiene skills; likes to dig and bury. Gracie? Not so much!

Jenn and I have tried all sorts of treatments to entice Grace to practice better hygiene. We’ve read online experts. We’ve changed the litter brand – at least three times. We’ve changed litter boxes. We’ve tried diapers (not what you think). Nothing seems to work. But she seems perfectly content with her life just the way it is, so, I doubt that there will be any change in her behavior.

I’ve often heard ministers and others say that trying to lead a church is like trying to herd cats. I have never agreed. But now, I’m really not that sure. Cats may be easier! When it’s time to add water to their bowl, all five are right there. When it’s time to dig the toys out from under the furniture, all five are right there. When it’s time to give them treats, all five are right there. When it’s time to go to bed, all five are right there.

Inciting transformation and change has always been part of my self understanding. Whether as a coach; helping the athletes to improve their skills, or as a choir director; helping the singers to learn their music and improve their vocal technique, or as a minister; helping people to deepen their spiritual life through, mission, study and worship, I have always tried to be an agent of change.

Whether we like it or not, change is inevitable. What is uncertain, is our response to change’s impulse. We all have friends or family members like Gracie, unwilling to change, contended with things exactly as they are. They can be so frustrating if we sincerely believe there are things they need to change. We all have other friends and family members who readily embrace change at the speed of lightning, never giving real thought to the consequences which drastic change may bring. And I hope we all have a few friends and family members who are open to change, willing to change, are seekers of transformation, but wish to do so at a pace which produces life-long impact.

When are we most open to change? We are most open, I think, during seasons like Lent, when we are freed to honestly consider our spiritual hygiene. Maybe we need to do some reading? Maybe we need to try a different box? Maybe we do need to add some protection? Funny, our efforts have not produced change in Grace. Perhaps it’s because we really can only change ourselves. Hmm… (So much for being an agent of change!)

 

Lent – Day Twenty-four
One might wish for past failures to be redeemed, but often they seem unredeemable. Whether they are – or not – is often the decision of others. We like to say that they should forgive and forget, but a person who has been wronged and especially the person who has been in the wrong always find both forgiving and forgetting difficult. Forgiving, however seems easy when compared to forgetting. So I can’t help but wonder if never forgetting doesn’t also mean never having forgiven?

From time to time I hear someone say, “I can never forgive him (or her) for that!” I feel sorry for them, because I recognize that some part of their spirit will never be healthy. And the lack of a willingness to forgive may well be like a cancer, laying dormant until it doesn’t. Then the entire spirit will be at risk.

But at least that person is being honest with you and themselves. The ones who make this healthy forgiving/forgetting thing into an illusion are the ones who say, “Oh, I’ve forgiven them for that,” but constantly bring the situation up, like a club, to fend off the offender (and anyone else). Has one really offered forgiveness when one continues to grip the “forgetting club” with white knuckles?

The worst case is where the one who has really been hurt actually forgives and gets over it, but the offender is never able to fully accept the forgiveness and unable, therefore, to put it behind them (forget).

To never forgive is to have power over the unforgiven. It is a way to control the relationship, keeping the unforgiven at arms length or further. It’s an excuse to ignore or criticize or obsess. It’s an excuse to avoid, evade and enslave.

To forgive is to choose humility over hubris, to reject power and accept equality. And that’s the rub. We are trained to be competitive, to look for an advantage and then take advantage of the perceived weakness. We are insidiously seduced to constantly strive and climb the corporate ladder. To be content with ones “station in life,” is to be labeled as lazy.

Father, forgive us for we know what we do…

 

Lent – Day Twenty-four
One might wish for past failures to be redeemed, but often they seem unredeemable. Whether they are – or not – is often the decision of others. We like to say that they should forgive and forget, but a person who has been wronged and especially the person who has been in the wrong always find both forgiving and forgetting difficult. Forgiving, however seems easy when compared to forgetting. So I can’t help but wonder if never forgetting doesn’t also mean never having forgiven?

From time to time I hear someone say, “I can never forgive him (or her) for that!” I feel sorry for them, because I recognize that some part of their spirit will never be healthy. And the lack of a willingness to forgive may well be like a cancer, laying dormant until it doesn’t. Then the entire spirit will be at risk.

But at least that person is being honest with you and themselves. The ones who make this healthy forgiving/forgetting thing into an illusion are the ones who say, “Oh, I’ve forgiven them for that,” but constantly bring the situation up, like a club, to fend off the offender (and anyone else). Has one really offered forgiveness when one continues to grip the “forgetting club” with white knuckles?

The worst case is where the one who has really been hurt actually forgives and gets over it, but the offender is never able to fully accept the forgiveness and unable, therefore, to put it behind them (forget).

To never forgive is to have power over the unforgiven. It is a way to control the relationship, keeping the unforgiven at arms length or further. It’s an excuse to ignore or criticize or obsess. It’s an excuse to avoid, evade and enslave.

To forgive is to choose humility over hubris, to reject power and accept equality. And that’s the rub. We are trained to be competitive, to look for an advantage and then take advantage of the perceived weakness. We are insidiously seduced to constantly strive and climb the corporate ladder. To be content with ones “station in life,” is to be labeled as lazy.

Father, forgive us for we know what we do…

 

Lent – Day Twenty-three
I got ahead of myself, or perhaps it is Lent that I got ahead of. When I posted on Saturday last week, I indicated that is was Day 23. Actually, it was Day 22! That might not seem, like much, but had I not caught the error of my ways, we were headed towards a 41 day Lent, and from my perspective, 40 days in plenty.

Now that I think about it, I frequently get ahead of myself, and it is never a good thing. Things get missed. Things that might be unimportant get elevated. Things that never should even see the light of day end up in the spotlight.

I can’t help but wonder at how it can be that I get ahead of myself, as usually, I am a day or two behind. I function better from behind. I need the pressure of it being the last minute to get motivated.

A couple of weeks ago I was asked if I work ahead on these posts – have some “in the can” so that I can just copy and paste. I, of course, responded, “No. Remember, the whole purpose of this is for me to be disciplined enough to write each and every fast day during Lent.” If something strikes a chord with a few of my friends, that’s just frosting on the cake of my chosen Lenten discipline.

Needless to say, there was a bit of “false truth” in my reply. It wasn’t what I said, as much as it was what I didn’t say. I didn’t say that there is no way I could work ahead, it’s not in my DNA. And I didn’t say that it does matter to me that these posts strike a chord with you, my friends.

When I get ahead of myself it usually means that I have also gotten ahead of God. It is an act of impatience. It an act of weakness. It is an act of hubris, my taking something in my own hands that would be better left in the hands of others. It is also a faithless act, believing that I can handle it on my own without the Divine preparation that comes with prayer, study and conversation.

“…but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

 

Lent – Day Twenty-two
Yard work and gardening, perhaps more than any other human activity, directly fulfills the Divine imperative to care for the earth. But if one were to judge my yard (I say my yard because the yard is on my list of duties), one would see a massive failure! The various garden beds tell a different story. Jenn does a great job!

When we were house shopping prior to moving to Frankfort, Jenn had a long list of things we were looking for. Mine was short. I had but one. The yard had to be small. Jenn, I hope, found most of her desired features. I guess I got mine. It only takes 30 minutes to mow our lawn.

Last year we had an infestation of moles. We have mole holes everywhere. Although you could tell where they were quite easily when mowing, it was not all that noticeable last year. It is a new year! I can’t tell if the moles are back or not, but the damage they wreaked last year is very obvious right now.

Isn’t that also true for the “mole holes” in our lives. Rather than deal with the situation promptly, we just sort of stamp it down, hoping that grass will grow back and the lawn that is our life will be lush and green. But it never works, does it? Now there are too many of the holes and the effects are clearly noticeable. Our yard is a mess.

Truthfully, when things degenerate too far, we need professional help. So, this morning I contacted a lawn service to come and give us some help restoring the lawn. Perhaps these Lenten posts have uncovered a hole or two that you have stamped down – never really dealt with. If so, let me encourage you to not let it go any longer. Perhaps you can fill the hole(s) yourself? But if not, then don’t be afraid to seek some help. A good place to start, of course, is your minister. (S)he may not be able to help, the hole being beyond her/his ministerial training. But I assure you, (s)he will be able to direct you to the right lawn care provider to help make your yard lush and green again.

 

Lent – Day Twenty-one
It’s time to try and swing a golf club. It’s been a while and I have a new knee to try out. I must confess, I am a bit nervous. I never have been a very good golfer. I break 100 most of the time, but seldom break 90. My driver gets me in a lot of trouble, and I am no Phil Mickelson at getting out of the mess I’ve made. And I’ve never seen a putt I couldn’t miss at least twice.

For people who don’t play golf, I’m sure it looks like a stupidly easy game. All you have to do is hit this little dimpled ball that’s just sitting there. Sometimes you even get to set it on a tee. And the pro’s make is seem so easy.

I watched some men’s pro golf yesterday. They were playing someplace in Texas on a course that seemed to have quite a bit of water. There was a lot of wind, often gusting to over 30 mph. One hole in particular was causing the players a good bit of trouble. They needed to hit over the water and land it safely on the other side. Should have been easy for these guys, but with the wind and the pressure of match-play, many of them were hitting it in the water. It kept me smiling.

I know it’s not very Christian to wish for someone to fail – in this case – hit it in the water, but watching these pro’s struggle made me feel okay about my poor game. The last time Jenn and I went on a trip to play golf, I ran out of balls, having hit so many of them into the water!

Misery loves company, but it shouldn’t. There is nothing beneficial when we cheer for someone’s failure. Self-worth should never be based on comparisons. When we compare ourselves with others, only two things are likely to happen, we will end up feeling smug or we will end feeling defeated. Neither is helpful.

My golf game is my golf game, but it is not who I am. When I hit in the water, I hit it in the water. My self-worth is based on relationships: with the Divine and with my friends. In both cases, I am loved. And being loved makes it very difficult to cheer for anyone’s failure.

 

Lent – Day Twenty
Twenty down. Twenty to go. Should one be happy that our Lenten journey is half over? Or, should one be sad? If one is struggling with some aspect of the journey, perhaps having given something up – perhaps taking something on, then being half way through may be a millstone. If one is reaching the point where the challenge is becoming much more commonplace, then having just twenty more days may be a milestone.

We’ve been told over and over again that to be successful one must set goals and work towards achieving them, and having achieved them must set new goals. I feel certain that those who espouse this kind of nonsense believe it with their whole heart, but…

I hope it doesn’t cause you to question my credibility, but I am not a goal setter, just as I am not a list maker. (Actually, one’s credibility should have nothing to do with whether one sets goals or not.)

I have a good friend who spent his entire working life in sales, working for straight commission, employed for thirty plus years for the same company. He was very successful. He was a goal setter. Perhaps his success was related to his goal setting, but knowing him the way I do, he would have done just as well if he had never set a goal. He would have been more disappointed if he hadn’t done his best, than if he didn’t reach a goal.

To do one’s best, day after day, week after week, year after year is a difficult thing. Just as it is to do one’s best for forty days. Oh, you say, forty days is much easier to accomplish than thirty plus years, but you are wrong. The great truth of life is we can only live one day at a time. And all of us can do our best for one day, can’t we?

 

Lent – Day Nineteen
A couple of nights ago a friend came over to the house to help me consolidate my fishing tackle boxes. I think I had seven boxes of various sizes, shapes and colors. They were basically arranged by the fish type. I had a walleye/northern pike box; a panfish box; a Lake Michigan box; a Canadian lake trout box; a bass box; and a catch whatever bites box. I had some hope of getting it down just two boxes, but that was not to be.

Once upon a time I tried to sort through and arrange my VHF tape collection. I decided I no longer would need some of the tapes, in that I had the same movie on a DVD. (I even transferred my ShowTunes recordings to DVD’s.) I also thought that it was very unlikely that I would ever hook my VHF recorder up to my sound/audio system again, but after building an entertainment center for a man cave, the collection stayed pretty much intact.

When I sit in my office and lean back with my fingers interlaced behind my head and look around I have two walls of book cases, filled to overflowing, to engage my vision. One or two books from college. Numerous books from seminary. More books from graduate school. Even more books for ministry. And that doesn’t include the 285 books I have on my iPad. I probably will try to down size the book collection someday too, also likely with little success.

Stuff. Clutter. Collections. I’m not certain how to categorize my accumulations, but when I am truthful with myself, I know that it is my life that needs un-cluttering, not my shelves. I don’t lug around seven tackle boxes all day every day, but I do lug around a bunch of excess baggage. And too often, the baggage becomes an obsession rather than an accessory. It really doesn’t seem like that much – most of the time – but when one of those old tapes pops into my brain, I am consumed by the playback, so much so, that there is little room left for living in the moment.

I imagine that Lent would be a good time to try and unpack some of these boxes, but just as I avoid sorting through the boxes of stuff my mother saved from my childhood, I avoid unpacking my adult baggage even more. Perhaps I could start with a small suitcase – carry-on size? But, I’m not certain I even have any carry-on size luggage?

“Come to me, all you who are weak and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

 

Lent – Day Eighteen
Soli Deo Gloria

If I have done my calculations correctly, today is Johann Sebastian Bach’s 329th birthday. He is unquestionably my favorite composer. I suppose I fell in love with him during my days in the Bethel College Choir under the direction of Dr. Robert Berglund. Each year we sang one of Bach’s motets. The experience was amazing. If that weren’t enough, Dr. Gordon Howell had us harmonically analyze many of his chorales in his music theory classes.

In 1985 I was blessed to be part of the Dale Warland Singers – a world renowned professional choir. At the invitation of Helmut Rilling, a J.S. Bach scholar, we traveled to Germany for couple of weeks to celebrate Mr. Bach’s 300th birthday. Needless to say, we sang quite a bit of Bach’s music while there. We also recorded Gustav Mahler’s Ninth Symphony with the Radio Symphony Orchestra of Frankfurt, Eliahu Inbal conducting, and performed Krzysztof Penederecki’s St. Luke Passion, with the composer conducting.

That’s probably enough name dropping for now and I imagine most of you have never heard of these folks and really could care less. I understand that, and don’t blame you, but for me, traveling to Germany with the Dale Warland Singers, just two weeks after my mother’s death, singing Bach’s music and these two master pieces was a very powerful time in my life.

J.S. Bach was primarily a church composer, but whether for church or the concert hall he always wrote “soli deo gloria” on his finished musical score. “Solely for the glory of God.” Whether preforming or listening to his music I can always hear these words echoing in the background. If one is attentive, it is, in my way of thinking, impossible to not have a moment of spiritual, aesthetic rapture when the music of Bach fills the air. His music is one of my “thin places,” where the space between the sacred and profane almost disappears; it is a wilderness oasis for me.

 

Lent – Day Seventeen
March 20, the official first day of Spring, unless you are a meteorologist, then March 1 was the first day of Spring. Or if you are Chinese, Spring begins on February 4. And then there are the Celts, whose Celtic tradition also has Spring beginning in early February.

So now it is the Northern Hemisphere that is increasingly tilted towards the Sun. The daylight hours are on the increase and nighttime on the decline.

Here in the Capital City of The Commonwealth of Kentucky, the annual blossoming of tulips has begun. A wonderful tradition has come to be, where the large circular flowerbeds on Capital Avenue are always planted first with tulips as way of heralding the arrival of spring. They are truly beautiful when they all are in bloom. Its become a favorite place for picture taking. A young child, dressed in the finest Easter attire, sitting in the midst of one of the beds, is a favorite shot. Wedding photos abound and Prom pictures are often taken in the gardens.

I love tulips. For me, they are the harbinger of Spring. When I see them pushing through the soil, reaching for the sun and opening their heads I know that Easter is just around the corner. Yes, I know, more days of Lent remain than have been observed, but still, the tulips remind me that time is passing quickly in this season of reflection and response.

I wonder, are our lives increasingly tilted towards the Son? Are the seeds of the fruit of the Spirit pushing through the topsoil of our lives? Will they be like tulips, here today and gone before we know it? Or, will they produce lasting fruit like apples or bananas?

What we know for certain is that tulips don’t just come up unless bulbs are planted. And they take less care than many other flowers; you just plant them in the Fall and enjoy them in the Spring. If only our spiritual lives were like that, but for the most part, they aren’t. If our faith is to blossom, it must be cared for continually. Planting. Weeding. Watering. Dead-heading. Spring is only the beginning of the natural growing season, just as Lent is only the beginning of the spiritual growing season. And what we are doing now, will only bear fruit if we are in it for the long-haul. We can look at it as there being just 23 more days of Lent, or we can look at it as this being the first day of the rest of our lives. Which will it be for you?

 

Lent – Day Sixteen
If only they would work. But they never do. Just buy this golf club and you’ll hit it straighter and longer than you’ve ever done before. Just drink this drink and the weight will melt away. Just use this lotion and your crows feet will disappear. Just wear this wrap and your back will never bother you again. Just say this prayer and riches will be yours.

Millions, perhaps billions of dollars are spent everyday trying to conquer problems with sugar pills that have no chance of long term success. Advertisers know that our weakness is our inability to really make the changes we need, so they offer us the quick fix that we don’t need but will try anyway. We will try it, because very few of us have the discipline needed to truly instill change. We will try it, so we have something to blame that is not ourselves. But there is no golf club that will improve the consistency of my swing, and that’s the problem, not the brand of clubs I swing.

Just give this up for Lent and…

Much the same can be said about the quick fix that many of us believe Lent can bring. If I can give up chocolate, I’ll lose weight and be able to keep it off. If I read the Bible and pray everyday I will be more spiritual. But to think that way, to believe that Lent is a forty-day self help plan, is to completely miss the point. Lent is not about us. Lent is not about self improvement. Lent is about God. Lent is about seeing God in the everyday of life, where we normally only see ourselves.

If you have given something up as a way to fix something in yourself, there is still time to refocus. Lent does not come with the promise of making us better. It comes reminding us that God is always present, in our triumphs and especially in our struggles.

 

Lent – Day Fifteen
In spite of Mr. Git’s extraordinary effort, I have never figured out when it should be “its” and when it should be “it’s.” And (Yes, I do remember something about starting a sentence with “and” or “but.” But I don’t remember exactly what?), I also can’t figure out when to use “:” and when to use “;” so I am likely to use “-” instead (although I have absolutely no idea when “-” is actually supposed to be used).

There is a good deal more about our language and it’s intricacies that I don’t get, but I keep using it. I often receive encouragement to keep writing. I appreciate the affirmations. I realize that my writing style is heavily influenced by my preaching. Writing something to be read aloud is a very different animal. Some sentences are verb-less. Some of them are run on. Sometimes they are rhyming. Sometimes they employ alliteration or onomatopoeia. But mostly they are short (the sentences not the sermons).

There is also much about faith and spirituality that I don’t get. How does prayer work? How does one center oneself? Can one have faith in isolation? Or, is faith primarily a corporate enterprise? Is there a way to balance faith and belief? Why is it, that people of faith seem way more likely to judge their neighbor than love him or her? Why is it, that at some point in their history, nearly all faith traditions have practiced conversion by the sword?

Just as I keep on writing, even though at times I crucify the rules of composition, I also continue to practice faith, even though at times I crucify orthodoxy and orthopraxy (correct belief and correct practice). And just as I will never master composition, I will never master faith.

Faith/spirituality can never be exhausted. There will always be more to learn. Always be more to do. Failure, then, shouldn’t be discouraging. Discouragement also shouldn’t be discouraging. Rather, each and every moment of our faith journey is ripe with possibility. If we are attentive, we will learn. If we are persistent, we will grow. And even if we are unaware of the transformation taking place, God is at work, shaping, molding, weaving, forming us into the persons we want to be and God dreams for us to be.

 

Lent – Day Fourteen
I like neither high bridges nor roller coasters. I can do them, but I don’t much like them. Sadly, there are also people in this world who I don’t much like. I recognize that my fear – and yes, that is what it is – of roller coasters and high bridges is a little irrational, but it lurks in the back of my consciousness just the same. As for the people, it’s neither fear nor irrational.

Is there a common denominator in the people who rub you in the wrong way?  For me, one of them is conceit. People who think more highly of themselves than they have any right, almost always are an irritation. You know of whom I am speaking. He or she (usually he) always has a better story. Their injury is always worse. It doesn’t really matter if it true or not, but they always scored better on the test, scored more points in the game, drove the “hotter” car and always had to have the last word.

I often have someone tell me that so-and-so is that way because they really have a self esteem problem. And I agree whole-heartedly, but they mean the person in question has low self esteem while I am thinking their problem is that it’s way too high.

There is a difference between judging and evaluating. Other people judge. I evaluate. I say it often, “Now I am not being critical, I am just making an observation!” but that is simply not the truth. The very fact that I say such nonsense is proof that the opposite is clearly the truth.

Now, I’m just guessing, but I’ll bet it’s pretty much the same with you? We really don’t want to be judgmental and we really do want to like everybody, but there just are some who annoy the heck out of us! I don’t know about you, but I try really hard to be neighborly. I give them my best fake smile. I nod my head as if I am listening. I defer to their wisdom. And I never employ sarcasm. So obviously, the problem is not me, so it has to be them!

If I was going to give something for Lent and I have not, I would give up being judgmental, but if I did, then I’d never have anything to talk about. And I’ve clearly got a lot to say…

 

Lent – Day Thirteen
Winter has returned and I don’t like it. My knit hat messes with my shaved head. (It really does!) And my hands which are always a bit cold are nearly frozen.

Martin Marty, a well beloved figure in American Mainline Christianity, writes of being a “wintry sort of Christian.” Drawing on Karl Rahner, the Roman Catholic theologian, Marty writes, “[The wintry type] would be made up of those who, although they are committed Christians who pray and receive the sacraments, nevertheless find themselves at home in a wintry sort of spirituality, in which they stand alongside the atheist, but obviously without becoming atheists themselves.”

All of us, I think, can at times relate to spirituality’s winter season. Rationalism, reason and doubt mess with our heads and our hands seem unable to participate in God’s work. Lent may well be the Church’s response to the needs of wintry sorts – the sort who must hang on to faith with all their might.

I have the pleasure of working with a group of men from across Kentucky who love to sing. Almost one hundred voices strong, this group gets together one weekend a year to practice and perform. The text of one of the newer songs in our repertoire, “Inscription of Hope,” comes from a wall of a basement in Cologne, Germany where Jews were hiding from the Nazis during World War II. It reads:

I believe in the sun even when it is not shining,
And I believe in love even when there’s no one there.
And I believe in God even when he is silent,
I believe through any trial there is always a way.

But sometimes in this suffering and hopeless despair
My heart cries for shelter, to know someone’s there.
But a voice rises within me saying hold on my child,
I’ll give you strength, I’ll give you hope, just stay a little while.

I believe in the sun even when it is not shining,
And I believe in love even when there’s no one there.
But I believe in God even when he is silent,
I believe through any trial there is always a way.

May there someday be sunshine,
May there someday be happiness,
May there someday be love,
May there someday be peace.

Amen.

 

Lent – Day Twelve
Integrity is one of those things we all want, but seem to lack. There is a whole bunch of self-delusion going on today. When I think of integrity I think of words and actions being congruent. When these two are out of sync, it won’t be long until integrity walks a way.

I don’t know why it is so difficult to live consistently? I don’t know why trust is so easily broken? I don’t know why animosity and falsehood are on the rise and integrity and truthfulness on the decline?

Is it more difficult today to live in such a way that our “yes” means “yes” and our “no” means “no?” One could easily think that with social media being an ever-present and invasive phenomenon, that the possibility that we are not just being watched, but being recorded would lead us to either be consistent or go into hiding.

It is unusual to run into someone whose life is truly integrated. Most of us choose compartmentalization rather than integration. The problem is that the lines we have drawn tend to blur or even shift. And once we have lost our integrity, it is a very difficult to reclaim.

Actually, one can not reclaim integrity, as each of us is dependent upon others for its return. Even if we feel our integrity is solid, it is always others who ultimately make that determination for/on us. Inherent trust has gone the way of the dinosaur. It has been replaced with inherent distrust. Cynicism has risen to epidemic proportions. Today, all trust must be earned and the cost has become prohibitive.

I suppose it may well be a naive assumption that one should be given trust – considered a person of integrity – until one has broken trust – compromised integrity. If that is true, we have lost something very important. To live aways on one’s guard, always afraid of being taken advantage of, always assuming the worst about people, is a miserable way to live. And frankly, there is enough misery already. The truth is, if we are unable to find integrity within ourselves, we will be hard pressed to see it in anyone else. So, how about participating in a little Lenten experiment? Why don’t we practice integrity and why don’t we try to believe others are practicing integrity too.

 

Lent – Day Eleven
How about a little more on expectations (but not so heavy)?

When things don’t go the way you expect them to go, is it because they went worse, or they went better? My suspicion is that the answer is they went worse, at least that is my usual experience. But I wonder, is that really usual or am I simply ignorant of all the wonderful things happening to me, for me and around me? I chose the word ignore rather than something like unaware, because I should be aware, and if I am not, then I really am an ignoramus.

Take this morning, as an example. When I looked at my schedule I knew that it was going to be a busy day. Not only was it going to be busy, but I anticipated that there would be a couple of uncomfortable conversations, the kind that I would rather not have, but which come with the job. Instead, I had a couple of terrific conversations, enlightening and positive; conversations which were filled with compliments – even informing me that my preaching makes a difference (now there’s a surprise).

It was impossible to ignore these conversations, they were too too surprising – too positive. I could no more ignore them than I could the results of the SEC Championship Game (I’m speaking of men’s basketball of course).

My day has not gone the way I expected. It has exceeded my expectations in every way imaginable!

There are good things going on all around us every day. There are unexpected pleasures, wonderful fragrances, exquisite tastes that if we will just pay attention, will put a smile on our face. Lent falls at this wonderful time of year when we have no idea what the weather might bring tomorrow. The seventy degree day may give way to one where the high is only seven. Tulips and jonquils may make an appearance today, only to be buried in a blanket of white tomorrow.

Yes, there is a certain seriousness – somberness – that is associated with this spiritual season, but that does not mean that joy takes a vacation. The problem may well be that we have taken a vacation from joy, not because it is not around, but because we are inattentive.

It has been a great day and will continue to be so. I’m even excited for a Finance Committee meeting and a Board meeting. So what’s on your plate tonight? Is there a way to make it better than expected? It’s really not about what happens around you. It’s all about what’s happening within you.

 

Lent – Day Ten
Expectations. Is your life living up to your expectations? Is that even a fair question to ask? Or, is it one of the more important questions to ask?

I think that all of us have dreams, some of them as old as from our childhood. Often those childhood dreams are not all that realistic. There are only a very small number of people who are talented enough to play a sport professionally or play cello in a major orchestra, so all those dreams of playing for the Vikings or in the New York Philharmonic are unrealistic. Such dreams seldom morph into expectations. 

Expectations, I think, tend to be less lofty and are usually more commonplace. We expect to have a good life; get married, have children, work in a rewarding job, retire comfortably, live to a ripe old age. Such expectations are commonplace to those of us fortunate to live in the northern hemisphere. Actually, such expectations are more common for caucasians than for persons of other ethnic heritages. Truthfully, such expectations are only dreams to the vast majority of people in the world today.

How is it that a very small percentage of the world’s population have the possibility to have such “commonplace” expectations? Is it fair? Does our good fortune necessarily mean that other must be locked into “bad” fortune? Does our good fortune necessarily mean we are responsible for the bad fortune of the rest of the world?

I don’t know very many people who like to think about such questions, for to even consider them may lead to a sense of guilt, perhaps even shame. I have some acquaintances who love to bring the subject up, not to have a serious discussion, but rather to cause discomfort; to appear more politically correct and spiritually deep than they really are. And I know some folk who seriously assert that we are guilty and should be ashamed.

I do not know how to address this question well, and my raising it is not an attempt to needle or cause discomfort, it comes out of my recent Lenten reading regarding poverty. I have been admonished by the idea that our poor would be very rich, were they living elsewhere. Why is this phenomenon, this reality, so foreign to our thinking? How can anyone consider our poor rich? Is it just a ruse? I seldom even consider it. I just go on living a really good quality life with almost no regard for those who can’t. What does that say about me? What does that say to me? Is there Divine concern at my non concern?

Lent, I think, offers a context where we are hopefully more open to reflection and big questions; a countercultural context that may even encourage such contemplation. But I’m not sure any of us really want to go there?

 

Lent – Day Nine
I’ve been thinking about atheism recently. It seems to be the latest religious fad. Now, I don’t use the word fad pejoratively, but rather as a descriptor of something growing quickly but whose staying power is yet to be discerned. I wonder if there were atheists in the times when it was believed that a different god ruled over everything? Or is atheism a more recent development?

I am not particularly troubled by the popularity of atheism, but I am interested in its appeal. What part of the human psyche or spirit does atheism balm? Is it an understandable response to a life changing experience? Is it the end game of high level thinking? Is it it’s own religion? Or, is it a fad in the more pejorative sense?

As an outsider looking in on atheism, I can’t help but wonder which is the greater leap of faith, that all of this is perfect chance or that all of this is perfect intention? In part, to believe in a Creator, is to find the intricacies of our earthly existence greater than the the possibility of no creator.

But the bigger issue for me, as if the perfection of this creation that enables me to live isn’t big enough, is how does atheism help one address the big questions? Why are we here? Why is there death? Is there a purpose to our lives? Where do we turn for ultimate meaning? Is there a next?

I consider myself a questioning Christian. I am motivated by questions, not answers. Faith, for me, is not about finding the answers for the issues of life, it’s about providing a world view that is open-ended, embraces questions and recognizes the importance of context. And, I need a moral compass. Left to my own devises, I am not likely to love my neighbor or have concern for those who have no voice.

 

Lent – Day Eight
One week down, so how is your Lenten commitment going? Are you doing a new thing? Or giving up an old thing? Did you remember that Sundays are never fast days? Did you splurge and in your splurging give thanks for the opportunity to enjoy the day fully? Was your “fast break” a celebration of resurrection or of self-indulgence?

One of the great opportunities that Lent offers, is to more fully allow one’s relationship with the Divine One to be imbedded as we intentionally focus on a new commitment. And, Lent offers the optimal opportunity for faith to be part of one’s daily conversations. For most of us, living out one’s sacred relationship is difficult enough, but to talk about it is near impossible. But I’ll bet that most of the people in our sphere of influence are aware that it is Lent. Therefore, it is more natural that faith show up in casual conversation.

I am not big on telling people what they need, but I am on telling people who I am and why I am the way that I am. In part, I am the sum total of all my relationships – you are in me. But more than that, I am also a child of God – God is in me. So if I only share stories in which you are the major players, and keep hidden the stories of faith, then I am really not being fully open and transparent. True friendship is based on an honesty that reveals all that is appropriately shareable.

So, while it is difficult to talk about our faith, I believe it is important for our friends and more important for us. You see, in our sharing, we are forced to choose language that faithfully reflects our beliefs and practices. So the interaction causes us to consider what is really our belief and practice, and what it is that we don’t find credible or is antithetical to what we know to be true for ourselves. In other words, the Lenten season is a safe time for religious conversation, even if politics is still off limits. (And we all know that it is never polite talk about religion or politics!)

 

Lent – Day Seven
Yesterday, it seems, was International Pancake Day. Today has been designated as International Women’s Day. According to its web site, “no one government, NGO, charity, corporation, academic institution, women’s network or media hub is solely responsible for International Women’s Day.” I don’t really know anything about IWD, but I think it is always a good thing to reflect on the women who have been influential in our lives.

Time was, that were we asked to name the most influential person in our lives, most of us would have said our mothers. There are exceptions, of course, but nearly everyone in my generation experienced a “traditional” mother. That has changed as more and more women have pursued careers and families have morphed from the Cleavers (Leave it to Beaver) to the Pearsons (Us).

In today’s world, women can pursue any field of endeavor they choose, and are every bit as likely to be as satisfied as men. There are still inequities, especially related to renumeration, but women have seen a blossoming of opportunities.

Still, it is my guess that a majority of us would look to a woman as being our primary care-giver, role-model, inspiration or companion. I am at a loss to name all the significant women in my life. Some are sisters, teachers, nieces, colleagues, professors, students and friends. One is my wife. Some challenged me. Some comforted me. Some supported me. Some caused me pain. Some brought me joy. Some made me laugh. Some made me cry. All, I think, loved me.

My hope is that the same is true for you and I hope you don’t need a special day to remember them. I hope that from time to time you say “thank you” to them and that you always credit them, when their wisdom has guided your decisions and successes. And if not, then there is no better time to do so than the Seventh Day of Lent.

 

Lent – Day Six
I imagine you have a favorite type of music, one that is your “go-to” for listening. The radio in your car is tuned to that type and your mobile listening device is filled with your favorites. Your “ring tone” may be your favorite song?

My favorite is classical, although not really all classical. Believe it or not, Mozart is not one my favorites, but I love the music of J.S.Bach. I don’t listen to much “new” music. I can’t tell you who the cool groups are nor the titles of any recent hits. Its not that I hate popular music (I hold that feeling exclusively for John Denver), but I just don’t spend time listening to it.

Sunday night at our Coffee House worship service, our terrific praise band had the night off and the person who does our video was in charge of the music. One of the songs he chose to play was “The Light” by the heavy metal band Disturbed. I had never heard of the band nor heard the song before, but I was deeply moved by it, especially as a powerful anthem for Lent. The phrase that has stuck with me is: “sometimes darkness can show you the light.”

I would never say this is a Christian song, but it is laden with metaphors and images that speak to faith and Lent. It is stark and edgy. Nothing is sugar coated. But “hope” is lifted up, even when we feel “forsaken.” And we are reminded that there is much we can learn when we are in the dark, in the wilderness, feeling all alone.

Now, if I was “surfing” through stations on the radio and this song came up, I would not stop. And that would be my loss. Hearing it in a worship setting, where our theme was “Wind in the Wilderness,” I was caught up in the driving force of both isolation and community, of being lost and being found. All which goes to show, that while we have our favorites, it is good to be pushed into other places now and then.

https://dist.lnk.to/immortalized

 

Lent – Day Five
One should never do anything off the top of one’s head! Well, at least I should never do anything off the top of my head. Especially speak (or write.) Language is such a powerful tool, that to use it thoughtlessly is extremely dangerous.

It seems to me that no one is more cautious with their words than a politician. The slightest slip of the tongue and they end up being scrutinized by every news outlet in the country. And if there is anything that a politiciandoes not want, it’s scrutiny. Actually, that makes them no different than the rest of us, but the rest of us are much less measured in our speech and much less apt to be scrutinized in the news.

Still, the language one chooses to employ in conversation and writing is more critical today than at anytime in history. Why? In part because life has become more compartmentalized, work has become more technical and everything has become more specialized and intricate. So to be clear, precise and accurate, one must choose their words wisely.

Then again, the intent that comes out of our mouthes (or our pens) hasn’t really changed all the much from the days of the writer of the small biblical book of James. James, perhaps the brother of Jesus, writes extensively and provocatively about words. He claims that the words which slip off our tongues are on fire from hell. Nothing could be closer to the truth.

More lives are destroyed with words than are killed with Saturday night specials. More marriages are torn apart with words than infidelity. More friendships are broken with words than fists.

If one has a desire to walk through life peacefully, one cannot do it by dropping personal bombs or allow slips ups to linger; one must cradle one’s words in tenderness.

 

Lent – Day Four
There is little better than sitting in front of a roaring fire on a cold winter morning. The fire, although perhaps not the most economical choice for heating a room, cuts the edge off the chill that seems to seep in around windows and under outside doors. But there haven’t been many fire-worthy days.

It’s been a weird winter in Frankfort. The temperatures have been pretty consistently above average. Precipitation has been almost exclusively of the liquid type.  Crocus have blossomed. Ornamental trees are blooming. Tulips are already pushing through the soil. For most of us, the mild winter has been a blessing, but for some, say those who depend on plowing snow or those who tend fruit trees, these temperatures are troubling.

Often we see things only from our own perspective. We forget that what is good for us is bad for others. We live our lives on one side of the good/bad equation. The truth is, such dualistic tunnel vision reduces the world to a two dimensional competition. But life is never just two dimensional, it is always multifaceted and impossible to define comprehensively with either/or choices.

Sports, ever popular in America and allegoric of life as we seem to live it, are a false dichotomy where some win and the rest loose. But there is more to the game than the score. If you think I sound like a loser, needing to justify my loss, then you have bought into this false duality – that the only thing that matters is winning. As a former coach, I wanted the teams to win. I wanted the athletes to know the joy of victory. Sometimes, I wanted that too much. But the true benefits of participating in sports are far more lasting and important than whether you were on the side with the most points at the end.

If we are honest, we know that personal success, based on someone else’s failure, is usually short lived and often unsatisfying. The most precious moments in life are ones where there are no winners or losers. Even the idea of win-win is one that I think still buys into a dualistic view of life. But if our life is built around the “golden rule,” then anytime or anything that does not seek the best for all, knowing that the best for each of us is always going to be as varied as each individual, is inherently flawed.

So, if you have chosen to give something up for Lent, success is not in the successful completion, nor is failure in the unsuccessful attempt, success and/or failure is in the journey of personal spiritual discovery and the shared experience.

 

Lent – Day Three
Life is filled with short small insignificant phrases that are either intended to make us smile or perhaps inspire us in some short small insignificant way. I encountered one of them yesterday. It said, “follow your own path.” It was written on a lovely small vessel that was intended to hold a bar of soap or perhaps a set keys. (A quick aside: with the advent of keyless cars and keyless door locks do think keys will go the way of the typewriter?)

When I saw the plate-like vessel bearing the inscription, I did smile – for a nanosecond – but just that quickly my smile gave way to a furrowed brow. It’s not that I have anything against insipid phrases generally, but I must confess, that perhaps because of the ubiquity of Lent in my thoughts right now, I found the implied message, “follow your own path,” to be an anathema.

Yes, anathema is another strong word (see Day Two), but if one takes Lent seriously, if one takes faith seriously, if one takes the way of the cross seriously (yes, I recognize that “the way of the cross” is another short small phrase, but is neither insipid nor insignificant), then following our own path is an error in judgement.

To follow the way of the cross is to put oneself under the reign of God. To follow our own path is to put oneself above God’s reign; it is to reject the idea of a greater good, a better path, an Ultimate best. Lent is about recovering the humility of the Divine-human relationship. It is a bold recognition that left to our own devices, we will chose our own path, and that path will likely be the path of least resistance. To follow the way of the cross, is to resist the allure of having our own way and following our own path. Although it sounds like an oxymoron, the way of the cross is the way of joy and contentment.

 

Lent – Day Two
Do you know how it is, when you are reading a book and the author writes something that you immediately know to be true, but you have never thought of before? It happened to me yesterday. I am working my way through a book by a well known biblical scholar and when I read the following sentence, I had to set the book down, pick up my pen, underline the sentence, and put an exclamation mark in the margin, but mostly I had to think about it – I still am. “The riddle and insight of Biblical faith is the awareness that only anguish leads to life, only grieving leads to joy, and only embraced endings permit new beginnings.”

He might have used “paradox” rather than “riddle and insight” and then I might have passed right by, thinking it was just another interesting Brueggemannism. But riddle? And insight? Clearly, I had never applied the word riddle to my understanding of faith, and while I would like to think that I have had a number of insights, I certainly never have had this one.

My age revealing truth is, whenever I hear the word “riddle,” I think of The Riddler of Frank Gorshin fame, dressed in his green question marked suit . “Riddle me this, Batman.” Suddenly I was thinking, “Riddle me this, Walter.” I had no problem with the third of his assertions, that “only embraced endings lead to new beginnings.” Isn’t that the end game of the journey of Lent? I was somewhat more reflective (i.e. troubled) on the his second point, that “only grieving leads to joy.” I have said similar things, often thinking later that saying it was really a dumb (i.e. simplistic and unhelpful) way to comfort someone in the midst of mourning. And one can certainly experience joy without it being a response to loss, can’t they? But it really was his first point that brought my reading to a screeching halt.

“Only anguish leads to life.” While “Wind in the Wilderness” is the theme we are seeking to unravel during Lent at First Christian Church, it may be that my personal passion for Lent may have become seeking to unpack “only anguish leads to life.” Anguish is such a powerful word, such a loaded word. Anguish not just being distressed or upset, it is being deeply distressed, profoundly distressed, extremely distressed, excruciatingly distressed. I wonder, could it be that anguish is not the same as anger or regret or denial, but rather that anguish is a kind of an overall numbness that keeps us from being engaged or feeling or caring? Perhaps this Lent will be a time of moving beyond numbness: accepting anguish, enduring grief and embracing endings. If so, then, riddle will give way to insight and we will experience life, joy and new beginnings.

 

Lent – Day One
Lent comes to us as a gift. When our lives seem out of hand, always running from here to there, never enough time to get everything done, Lent reminds us that life need not be this way. I can’t imagine what it is like to be a parent with children still living at home, whatever their ages. The constant chauffeuring leaves little time for anything else. As I read the Facebook posts of my former students at St. Anthony Village High School and the parents at First Christian Church (and others) I am overwhelmed with the busyness. I don’t understand how you get it all done. Your are my heroes.

So how does Lent remind us that there can be a different way of living? As Lent begins with the imposition of ashes, often accompanied with the words, “remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” we are immediately confronted both with the fragility of life and it’s impermanence. Sometimes, I think, we like to think that we are indestructible or that we are indispensable. Such thinking inevitably leads to undue pressure and anxiety. Admitting that we will never get everything done and that someday our days on earth will end, can be liberating. Such knowledge, when deeply engrained, leads to “the peace that passes all understanding.”

Now, to allow Lent to become a therapeutic and spiritual time of healing and wholeness, we must be willing to take on one more thing. That thing is letting go; letting go of the our superman and superwoman complex. Letting go of our cape and mask means we are free from needing to be: “Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!.” It allows us to admit that we never could do any of these things and never will.

How does one let go? Well, to be honest, I can’t tell you how to let go, I can only share with you how I will be letting go. I am going to spend more time with Jennifer, with good books and with the music I love most. I am going to enjoy driving by being less aggressive and more considerate. I am going to make time to listen to myself: to think and to explore ideas and feelings. I am going to trust that others are better equipped to run the world. I am going to share responsibilities and express gratitude. And I am going to give thanks for Lent as it works on my life and nourishes my soul.

 

Saturday, February 25, 2017
I enjoy working crossword puzzles. Jenn I like to do them together. There was a time when we subscribed to USA Today home delivery just to get the puzzles. We stopped that a few years ago, and now the only time we sit together and try to fill in the boxes is when we are vacationing. Those of you who do crosswords know that they get more difficult each day with Sunday being the most difficult. The New York Times crossword puzzle, edited by Will Short, is considered the best and most difficult. This morning I discovered how difficult the Saturday LA Times puzzles are. I was able to come up with only four answers… I know I’ll go back and look a bit more, perhaps three or four time, but I am not optimistic.

I think that the wrong idea regarding giving something up for Lent, is to go back year after year and attempt once more to beat that addiction or control that particular appetite that has control over us. Year after year we give it up, hoping this year it will take, much in the same way we make New Years resolution. And year after year we beat ourselves up when our latest attempt fails.

Lent is really not about us, ultimately it is about God. So giving something up is not about us, it’s about God. Somehow, we have been led to believe that we need to give something that will be difficult (see above), as if the harder it is for us, the more it will please God.

I can’t help but think of the ancient prophet Micah, who in exasperation reminds the people that God is not interested in burnt offings, young calves, thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of oil. And God is definitely not interested in the sacrificial offering of our first born child! So what is important for God, and therefore should be important to us? Micah tells the people then and today that we are to do justice, love mercy and to walk humbly.

It seems to me then, that the best thing we can do for ourselves (which will also bring Divine pleasure) is to give up showing favoritism – acting always with kindness; give up holding grudges – acting always with forgiveness; and, give up pride – acting always with humility.

And remember Jesus’ words: “in as much as you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me.”

 

Friday, February 24, 2017
Just returned from a walk on the beach. No great revelations except that I have a way to go until the repaired knee functions properly. Not a complaint. Just a fact.

It’s “Race Week” in Daytona Beach. NASCAR is a big deal down here and the restaurants and beaches are filled with tourists. I suppose I should be counted in the tourist group too. The local television news is seventy-five percent race coverage and twenty-five percent weather, or so it seems. I am not a NASCAR aficionado, but have friends who are. It’s surprises me (showing how naive I am at times) that race fans also dress in the attire of their favorite racing team. The colors are much more varied than Kentucky blue and white.

I can’t help but wonder why we love bright and vibrant colors when we support our chosen team, but are not so accepting of the colors of skin? What is it about humans that we don’t see God’s colorful array of skin-tones with the same wonder and joy as we do a rainbow, or a NASCAR shirt? Why do we devalue and dehumanize people based on the color of their skin or the shape of their eyes.

Black History Month will be over in a few more days. I can’t say I have intentionally spent time trying to increase my awareness of the significant individuals who have shaped this country, but I have a few more days. I really don’t know much about George Washington Carver or Rosa Parks. I haven’t read all the works of Martin Luther King Jr. and I have not read very many of the poems of Maya Angelou. I think it’s time! Care to join me?

 

Thursday, February 23, 2017
There are few things in life better than a nap. A nap is the ultimate sign of decadence. It’s like having pecan pie for breakfast!

Speaking of breakfast, I had peanut butter banana Greek yogurt this morning. It neither tasted like peanut butter nor banana. If not for the sliced banana lining the bottom of the bowl and handful of nuts resting on top, it would have been almost inedible. Why do they even try? They do pretty well with fruit flavors, but when they try to make things like cinnamon roll or Black Forest cake, they seldom live up to the name. (Actually, I like the Black Forest cake yogurt.)

The greatest downfall any of us make is trying to be something that we are not. Too often dissatisfaction and low self esteem lead us to try to change who we are, or at least to try and be a new flavor of our old selves. Seldom, if ever, does it work. That does not mean we should give up and give in, but it does mean we should accept that changes will be incremental and in the end we will still be who we are.

Our ultimate goal should be to become our best selves, not a different self. No amount of work will turn a slow runner into a world class sprinter. And we can never really change an introvert into an extrovert. Why should we? Being an introvert is not a weakness, neither is being slow.

Jesus tells us to love our neighbor as we love ourself. How loving would it be to constantly be shaming our neighbor because of this perceived weakness or that perceived fault? Yet we do that to ourselves. All the time. Perhaps he should have said we should love ourselves as we love our neighbor! But that too is problematic. All of us have neighbors we can do without. Perhaps working at being a good neighbor would be the most personally transforming work we could choose? I’m certain we would like both ourselves and our neighbors more.

 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Was just standing on a deck overlooking Daytona Beach. No, I am not here for the Daytona 500, Jenn and are here visiting friends. I am acutely aware of the attraction water has on human beings. Water and fire. We will sit and watch a fire burn or the tide roll in, saying nary a word and be quite content.

I’m not sure what it means to be content? And I am not sure what the attraction is with water? But without even knowing that it is happening, a certain peace or perhaps it is quiet that settles in like clouds hiding a mountain peak encompasses our minds. It’s not that the anxiety and pain of daily life are erased, but rather that they are hidden, hidden so deeply that In the moment, they disappear.

Of coarse, they haven’t disappeared! Still, often the quiet serves as a perculator, allowing new ways of seeing old problems in a new way. Most often, when we are in the midst of what seems to be an untenable situation we become fixated on one or possibly two ways through. With some distance we are able to see more ways around the mountain.

Too many of us take the need for peace and quiet for granted. We run from one cacophony to the next, never fully comprehending the way problems multiply, never able to detangle the backlash. One can try to continue “fishing” with a backlash, but in short order, the line will be so tangled that any hope for “catching” will be over.

So it is in our lives. We need to stop what we are doing and get a new perspective. And it seems to me that in our fast paced world the need for quiet is greater than ever. So, we head to the beach where the motion of the waves hypnotically calms our spirits, or to a campfire where the leaping flames lull our lives. And that, I think is prayer.

 

Tuesday, February 21, 2016
“It’s hard work to be an adapter. It’s easier to do the same things we’ve done and hope for different results. It’s even easier to join the downward spiral of negativity and ride the cynicism wherever it goes. Many more will join you in that exercise than in the prayerful, discerning work of adapting the unchanging message of life to a world that didn’t wait to tell us that it was changing yet again.” – Jacob Armstrong

I’ve been reading Jacob Armstrong’s book “The New Adaptors.” The book really is about reinventing church so as to be relevant in a new situation where faith is on the decline, alienation is on the uptick and the words “individual spirituality” have replaced the idea of corporate church.

What I did not expect was a book with ideas that are adaptable not just to the church, but to life in general and non-Millennial lives in particular. We in the church business are hyperventilating over the fact that thirty percent of Millennials are not just not interested in church, they are antagonistic towards church, and we non-Millennials don’t get their alienation. But I think the the real problem for most of us, whatever our age, is that in our living, whether as a person of faith or not, we have accepted the notion that we are either too slow or too dumb to be able to adapt in an ever quickly changing world. And this dynamic – one of inadequacy – weighs us down – keeping us from being confident and content.

I don’t know how often I have some grandparent telling me that they can’t keep up with their grandkids. Inevitably they say that their three year old granddaughter can pick up an iPad and already use it more efficiently and effectively than they can. And then they tell me that they refuse to get a smart phone because they don’t want to have to learn to use it. So I tell them, if they don’t learn now, in a year or two they won’t be able to communicate with their grandchild.

Then there are those who seem to not even need to adapt. They get technology. They program their DVR to record their favorite program while ordering ahead at Starbucks. Is the difficulty the swiftly changing technology or intransigence? Is there really that big a difference than making the transition from the rotary phone to the push button version? And wasn’t it easier and quicker to to make a call on the push button model?

So what are we waiting for? There is nothing keeping us from living today and living into the future except an unwillingness to adapt. Yes, church must adapt if it hopes to be relevant. But so must we! And that’s the fun part – learning something new so that we can better enjoy something old. You may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but these old dogs can be taught. (I tried to put a “feet emoji” here, but alas, I haven’t figured out how to make that adaptation yet – but I will!)

 

Sunday, February 19, 2017
Sitting in my easy chair. Watching golf. Cat in my lap. About the only thing missing is Jennifer and she’s on her way home from work.

Each of us has our own idea of the perfect way to spend an hour or two. Some of us like to curl up with a good book. Some of us want a more physical time – playing golf or a pick-up basketball game perhaps. Some of us enjoy working puzzles or playing cards. Some of us like to paint or cook or throw some clay. Whatever your favorite, all of us need time enjoying our chosen relaxer.

Relaxation doesn’t seem as easy as it was at one time. Our work days are longer. Our commitments are more frequent. There is less available time. But it seems to me, there is an undercurrent today that implies that relaxation is a waste of time. Not just that relaxation is a waste, but it is also selfish.

There are many people today who are working more than one job to make ends meet. Realistically, these folk have very limited time for relaxation. They may well need it the most, but all of us need time away, time off, time for ourselves. In my experience, if I want to relax, I need to schedule it. Seldom does relaxation time just drop into my lap. And just because it’s scheduled, does not mean it won’t be interrupted. But tonight, that’s exactly what has happened. I expected to have a bit of counseling to do this evening, but it fell through. So here I am, in my favorite chair, watching golf with a cat in my lap. It doesn’t get much better than this…and Jenn just pulled into the garage!

 

Friday, February 17, 2017
I have always liked to drive. (No snickers Luverne friends!) I’ve been known to drive fifteen to twenty hours straight. That’s not very bright, but it’s the truth. I just finished a three hour drive. All of it was freeway and the traffic was light. It was a pleasant way to spend the afternoon.

As I drove I listened to Sirius XM. It’s nice to not have to constantly try to tune into a new station. However, it is easy to get stuck listening to just one. I was listening to ESPN. There was only one subject of conversation, the Pro Basketball All Star Game. I don’t know why I kept listening, but I did for at least 100 miles. I finally gave up and tried one of the “news” stations. I listened to that for about fifty miles. Apparently I was more interested in the All Star Game than the over the top talk about Russia and President Trump’s advisors. Finally I settled on Jeff and Larry’s Comedy Roundup. It was much more enjoyable the final fifty miles.

Everyone needs a good laugh now and then. I know I do! And today turned out to be my day. Some of the other comedy stations are a bit raunchy for this preacherman, but the Comedy Roundup is less so. Basically, comedians seem to spend most of their time making fun of themselves. I think that’s something we need to do from time to time. It’s easy to be self absorbed, to think too highly of ourselves. It’s easy to think our job is really significant – that we work for the best company or the biggest church. It’s even easy to think our golf game is superb or our glass blowing is outrageous. But every now and then we need to laugh at ourselves and invite others join in the laughter.

Humility is a very underrated characteristic. We live in a culture where “only the strong survive.” For all of the talk about shared responsibility and leadership, we pay millions of dollars to a single person at the top of each corporate food chain. We “worship” entertainment stars and sports super stars. Few from either group are known for their humility. To be humble takes much more strength and self confidence than to be arrogant or self absorbed. Once upon a time there was a man who had thousands turn out to hear him preach. He could rightly have expected special treatment. Instead, he washed his friend’s feet.

 

Thursday, February 16, 2017
I sat down to write on Sunday afternoon following a very hectic day at church and promptly fell asleep. So that ’s my excuse for Sunday, however, I have no excuse for the rest of this week! Lazy I guess.

Two weeks from yesterday will mark the beginning of Lent with the observance of Ash Wednesday. As I did last year, my plan is to post 6 days per week for the 40 days of Lent.

I’ve been thinking about Lent for a number of weeks. Planning ahead has never been one of my strong suits, so I am fortunate to have a very forward looking Associate. It was not until Tuesday that we actually settled on a plan and theme to give focus to our Lenten journey at First Christian Church. Now that we have made a decision, things are quickly becoming more clear. More about that in the future.

The other thing that will kick off during the month of March of course is March Madness. First we till have conference tournaments, a practice that essentially renders the conference season meaningless. Then we will all wait to see if our favorite team made it into the tournament, what region they will play in, who they will face in the first round and how the path looks moving forward. I am, of course, talking about college basketball.

Every year I think about buying a television for my office so I can watch more of the games. So far I have resisted that temptation. It is really only the first round when games begin during the average work day, so if I had a tv, I would likely only watch games while in my office on 2 days. But chances are I wouldn’t even watch then. I am not that big of a basketball fan.

I loved watching basketball while I was in high school. The Luverne Cardinals were perennial winners. And I had good friends playing on the team. For a while I had season tickets for the Minnesota Gophers men’s team. Again, a good friend and I shared the tickets. Since then, so for more than 30 years, I have not even been to a basketball game. Even so, March Madness somehow draws me in.

I’m certain my Kentucky friends think that Big Blue is the reason I get interested in March. And there is some truth to that, but I think what really grabs me is the cultural obsession which March Madness has become. Its like the world stops spinning, replaced with the spinning of basketballs. People dress in their school colors. They put flags on their cars and trucks. Every eating or drinking establishment has their televisions tuned to basketball. There are brackets to fill out and parties to plan. It is amazing the effort put in to enjoy these games.

My wonderment at this phenomena is a bit skewed. I can’t help but wonder what would happen if all the monies spent on parties, tickets, travel and gaming were funneled instead into our public schools or shelters. I can’t help but wonder what would happen if all the time spent planning, traveling and watching were spent working on projects to better our communities. I can’t help but wish that the same interest and enthusiasm was engendered on behalf of our churches. We spend billions of dollars and millions of hours on our favorite college basketball teams and I participate in this investment too, but forgive me for dreaming about how such an investment in our children, the homeless, those who are continually hungry, the jobless, those who need health care and on the care of the earth would transform this world. What if we gave up March Madness for Lent this year…

 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017
Recently I was invited to take a look at President Eisenhower’s Farewell Address from the Oval Office as he prepared to hand the governance of this great nation to soon-to-be President Kennedy. I was struck by this former General’s concern about the nascent burgeoning military-industrial establishment. “We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence…”

In addition to addressing the danger of unfettered access to those engaged in governance, by those seeking to influence said governance, Eisenhower felt compelled to remind the American people of the human propensity to selfishly “live for today.” “Another factor in maintaining balance involves the element of time. As we peer into society’s future, we – you and I, and our government – must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without asking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage.”

Finally, as he closed his loving goodbye to the nation, the President sounded almost like an ancient prophet praying the collective people’s best impulses into reality. “We pray that peoples of all faiths, all races, all nations, may have their great human needs satisfied; that those now denied opportunity shall come to enjoy it to the full; that all who yearn for freedom may experience its spiritual blessings; that those who have freedom will understand, also, its heavy responsibilities; that all who are insensitive to the needs of others will learn charity; that the scourges of poverty, disease and ignorance will be made to disappear from the earth, and that, in the goodness of time, all peoples will come to live together in a peace guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love.”

Here is a vision for American that transcends the petty differences of politics, ideology and religious diversity. And President Eisenhower said it far more eloquently than I can ever hope for myself.

 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017
When I was in graduate school, I worked in the university library, usually in the reference section. One of the growing fears of the time was the plethora of false information and undocumented articles that were available on the internet. To help students do appropriate and valid research, lists of acceptable web sites were produced by each department. In other words, there was an awareness that there was a lot of misinformation available at the touch of a keyboard, information that was built on false assumptions and would lead students down the wrong research road and failing grades.

One of the other parts of my work behind the reference desk was to check the citations used or not used (plagiarism) in Master degree theses. It was easy but time consuming to check actual citations. It was more difficult to uncover plagiarism. That was twenty years ago and the internet was young. Although there are multiple anti-plagiarism tools available, I feel certain that the production of alternative facts has far outpaced the development of fact checkers.

For the past hour I have been trolling Facebook, looking at the posts of my many friends and trying to ignore the growing number of Facebook sponsored posts. It’s like reading one of those “newspapers” available at the checkout counter of my favorite pharmacy. They, of coarse, primarily highlight “facts” about the President, legislators, and right now – the President’s cabinet picks. I took some time and opened a few of these missives, some pro-Trump, some not. I suspect you know what I found. I found salacious stories and “alternative facts” galore. It troubles me!

I like to think of myself as being pretty well read and discerning. I guess I have too high an opinion of myself, for I am at a loss to know what has been falsely manufactured and what has been carefully researched. They all write as if they hold the corner on the truth. They all are seductive – easily reinforcing our preconceived biases.

I am convinced that to be an informed citizen, one must honestly seek to understand as many perspectives as possible. To do less is to open oneself to being seduced by a single ideology. Such seduction is the goal of the propagators of propaganda. There is no commitment to being fair or honest. There is often little or no conformation cited. So I need a list of acceptable cites, but how will I know if the list itself is biased?

Our easy access to information has made it more difficult to be well informed. Perhaps, this is one of reasons we have become a more divided people. We like easy. I mean, we are busy people and we just don’t have the time necessary to do honest research, so we go to the internet, find an interesting title, and swallow it whole.

I am also convinced that to have a profound faith, one must seek to understand as many perspectives as possible, but we do this with scripture too. It’s called proof texting; looking for a biblical verse here and a biblical verse there in support of a position we already hold. Such practices, while troubling when dealing with current events, is catastrophic when applied to our spiritual lives. If our positions are too easy to support, they may well be in need of more thorough exploration.

And just because it is on Facebook doesn’t make it right. Hmmm…

 

Monday, February 6, 2017
The day after: a second-guesser’s dream come true – the Super Bowl

Yes, one team won and one team lost in yesterday’s Super Bowl. The big winners, however, were the second-guessers; the ones who had absolutely no real investment in the game, but who wanted to collect anyway. These folk, most with little or no football experience, other than as arm-chair quarterbacks, have been throwing around the phrase “situational football” today. They believe that they understand football at a deeper and more sophisticated level than the coaches and players who have invested thousands of hours in getting to the point of playing in the NFL Championship Game. Their premise is that anyone with any brains knows that on third and one from around the twenty yard line with an eight point lead, that the correct call is a running play. Run the ball. Kick the field goal. Win the game!

I expect that I may have lost some of you with that description? Sorry! It really doesn’t matter what that meant, what matters is that the ones who have the greatest investment are also the ones who receive the harshest criticism. Which may very well be another reason some of us use for not moving from interest, to involvement, to investment.

Second-guessers drive me crazy. You can find them anywhere and at anytime. Whether it be a ball game or a business deal, a life partner decision or a life insurance decision, second guessers assume a position of superiority and expertise as they tell whoever is willing to listen, what the correct decision should have been. They speak with bullying-like authority so that no one willingly calls their opinion into question. And they do so with no involvement, other than sideline involvement, and no investment, other than perhaps, though not likely, the price of admission.

It is never easy to be out front, full engaged and committed. It is where the flying tomatoes are targeted. Even the victors in last night’s game are being second-guessed and pilloried.

Helen Keller is reported as having said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” Second-guessers usually have not ventured much of anything. Imagine the second-guessing a blind deaf woman might have had to endure. Now add her campaigning for women-suffrage, labor rights, antimilitarism and other social causes into the mix. It would have been easy to have stayed locked up inside herself. No-one would have blamed her. Few would have second-guessed her. Still, she chose to venture down a different road. But when her adventure led her to the Socialist Party, her detractors came out of the wood-work. None of them had shared her life experiences, yet all of them seemed to think they knew better than she did.

Is there a moral? Perhaps? If one wants an adventure, make an investment. If one doesn’t, opinions should be kept to oneself.

 

Sunday, February 5, 2017
Involved and Invested. That’s the theme from this morning’s sermon at First Christian Church in Frankfort. I was not the preacher. We celebrated Laity Sunday and all aspects of the service were handled by the men of the church. (We rotate between the women leading and the men leading in this annual celebration. It was the men’s turn.) Glenn Ellis was the preacher. I think I will borrow his theme.

I imagine that you have a large number of interests? I do, and seem to add new interests almost daily. Some of my interests are just that, interests. I’ve never even had a sample experience. I may have only read about it, watched it, or heard it being talked about, but it piqued my interest. Things like parasailing, photography, writing a book, riding a motorcycle, adopting a dog. I’m sure there are others but that’s enough to give you the idea.

I’m sure, although I don’t actually know, that some of you have done some or all of these. I have done none of them. They interest me, but apparently not enough to get involved. Occasionally it is easy to move from being interested to being involved, but more times than not, we never take that step.

Being involved demands commitment, and it seems to me that commitment is no longer fashionable. We change jobs, often. We move, often. (I’ve lived in seven places in the last 30 years.) Fifty percent of us are divorced. There was a time when people were committed to their faith tradition. If they were Methodist, and moved, they looked for a Methodist church. No more.

Whether right or wrong, I think of commitment and loyalty in the same breath, and that same breath involves investment. Loyalty like commitment involves investment; giving of ourselves – no holds barred. But we want to hold something back, to protect ourselves from the possibility of being hurt. We have this nagging voice in our heads advising us to take it easy. At times this defense mechanism is a savior, but more often I think, it is the opposite, keeping us from knowing the joy that comes with profound engagement.

The Super Bowl is tonight. There is not one player on either team who is only interested. They wouldn’t be there if they weren’t committed. They have each invested thousands of hours to get to today. They will be fully committed tonight. One team will win. One team will lose. None of them will be sorry they made the investment.

 

Friday, February 3, 2017
I, of coarse, have heard of asking the one you love to marry you, but until recently, I had never heard of someone asking another to be their best friend. As I listened to the story being told, I was encompassed by mixed emotions. Both persons in question were good friends, so l felt no jealousy, but I felt something. I love both those guys. We spent hours playing ball together. We rode buses to games and we’re classmates. The “asker” recently died and the other told the story.

I’ve thought a lot about that story. I wonder, how many of us have actually asked someone to be our best friend? What a high privilege, to be asked to be someone’s best friend. What an honor to be chosen. What a grace. What a responsibility.

I think the thing that I have thought about most since that day, is that I have neither asked nor been asked. I have missed out when it comes to the “official” best friend status. In the case of which I have speaking, these two truly were best friends. My privilege was to observe from a distance the love affair which took place between them, an affair that included being there for each other in sickness and in health, for as long as they both lived. A love affair that began in fifth grade and lasted until this past summer.

It’s a little dangerous of me to use the language of love affair for these two, for you might jump to the wrong conclusion, for neither of them were oriented toward people of the same sex, but a love affair it was. It was a joy to watch them. They would do anything for the other-did anything for the other. They knew what it meant to be a friend, to have a friend, to be a best friend.

As I wrap up my musings on friendship, I want to differ a bit from what Jesus said, that there is no greater love than giving one’s life for another. I want to suggest there is no greater love than living with a friend struggling for life, especially when the struggle lasts more than thirty years. But aren’t we all struggling for life, for clarity, for understanding? Don’t we all need someone we can count on, no matter, who doesn’t care how we voted, where we work or what we believe? I am lucky to have married that person, and I am lucky to have seen such love between my friends. Thank you Joel! And thank you Freddy; rest in peace.

 

Thursday, February 2, 2017
I’m sure you’ve heard it said that experience is the greatest teacher. I know I have. And it always rankles me a bit. If experience is how we learn, then why do we spend years of our lives reading, studying and observing. Apparently, I have wasted countless hours and absorbed significant debt for naught. I would say experience is a great teacher, but there other ways of learning that are every bit as efficacious.

However, there are segments of our lives where experience does reign supreme, friendship being primary. You cannot make friends reading a book or listening to a lecture. As I said yesterday, I believe true friendship is experienced, and that friendship is the thread which binds us together.

Some might say that some of us are connected by our common high school experiences. I would disagree. It’s not the experiences we hold in common that has created our friendships, it is the friendships that have enriched our common experiences. Some of us are friends from college. Even though we have not seen one another for forty years, perhaps haven’t even talked, our friendships hold. The same can be said of my years at St. Anthony High School. Many of you are friends because you sang in choir or played on a team I coached, but there are far more former colleagues and students who are not friends than those like you, who are. It was not the singing that made us friends, it was the friendships that made the singing have value.

Is there a point here? Well, sort of. I am suggesting that friends are more likely to foster experiences than experiences are to foster friendships. Which means what? During times of stress, anxiety, overworking, underachieving….it is important to know where to turn. It is not the time to join this group or that club, hoping to find respite and release. It is not to a place we should turn, it is to a whom. Other than dependence upon one’s faith and the Ultimate Who, it is friends who will bring us support, clarity and strength.

Still, when friendship and experience come together, real transformation is most possible, perhaps even probable. So, right now, I suggest taking a few minutes and reconnect with friends, especially ones you haven’t seen or talked recently. I guarantee that you will feel better, more positive and encouraged. Friends do that for friends. You do that for me. And who knows what may come from making that connection once more.

(When I wrote this, I was unaware that it is “friends day!” I don’t know if this is a Hallmark holiday or a Facebook creation. But Facebook ended my pre made video with the following: “your friends make you you. I confess I never expected to need to compliment Facebook, but apparently they get it.)

More tomorrow.

 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017
Well, my “few days days until I write again” has morphed into a few months! I’d like to blame the extended interlude on my recovery from knee replacement surgery, but if I did, then I would need to wait a few more months, as it will take six to twelve months to fully recover (so says the doctor). So I should probably confess that I simply didn’t want to enter the fray of divisive rhetoric, hurt feelings and blocked Facebook friends.

I am grateful to have good friends who have encouraged me to get off my hind-end and start writing again. And I am grateful for good friends who take a few minutes to read and consider what is on my mind. These days my mind is filled with many conflicting thoughts as well as some hopeful glimpses.

The conflicting thoughts, of course, are related to the manner of our governance. And the truth I have come to realize is that our government has been broken for years, so a change at the top is not likely to either make it worse or make it better. It is too big a ship to easily change direction, especially when there are so many captains and so few workers. Showing support and/or showing displeasure, while important rights, are just not where I will likely find fulfillment and joy.

My hopeful thoughts have once again bubbled to the surface. They remain my implicit trust in my friends, including all of you. Now, I know that there are some who are very happy with the results of the recent election and some most unhappy, but as I have been following all of you on Facebook, I have seen very little intimidation, mocking or “blocking.” True friendship is seldom a ideological choice, rather it is a relational experience. We are friends because of what we have a experienced together, and those experiences, whether difficult or easy, have forged a bond that has stretched across the world. Such bonds are central to my optimism.

More tomorrow.

 

December 22, 2016

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! It has been a very
good year for the Kentucky Opsatas. We have had our fair
share of medical issues, but we both are blessed with
overall good health enabling us to live life to the fullest.

Our family is currently down one member. Jenn’s beloved
longtime cat, Harvest, is no longer with us. She had been
with Jenn for more than seventeen years. She had even
learned to put up with John, although a bit reluctantly at first. We were both profoundly saddened by her death. Now, Tigger, Norbie and the siblings Grace and Drew are looking forward to welcoming two new brothers to the family. They are about eight months old and are rescue cats. There certainly will be some struggles with the transition, but we are confident that we will continue to be one big happy family.

With Easter being early in 2016, we were able to sneak off to Palm Springs for ten days in late March and early April. There was plenty of golf and time to relax by the pool. We enjoy that area very much and plan to return on a regular basis. Our time happened to coincide with the Coachella Music Festival. We didn’t attend any concerts, but the attendees made for good people watching!

In late August and September, we went to Hawaii – the Big Island – for two weeks. On our way out (and back) we spent time with Becky, our niece. She was a wonderful hostess and excellent guide. The highlight of the entire trip came early for us. We loved the Muir Forest. The ancient majestic redwoods standing straight and tall served as a reminder of our own mortality. Next we went whale watching and saw quite a few, along with dolphins and sea otters. Our return trip was spent driving north along Highway 1, spending a night in Mendocino, and returning through Napa Valley. With the two weeks in Hawaii we were able to see pretty much everything we wanted to see and play a good deal of golf too. Our time away ended staying in a cabin and fishing with friends on Lake Cumberland.

Work continues to be both challenging and rewarding. Jenn has a new role as Chair of a nursing council at the University of Kentucky Hospitals. She was able to travel to San Antonio, Texas for a nursing conference with coworkers. John stays busy with pastoral care, preaching and teaching at First Christian, Frankfort. He also continues to serve as an adjunct professor at Lexington Theological Seminary.

We are blessed to share our lives with you, our family and friends, and our hope is that you will be blessed with peace, joy and love in the new year. May our remembrance of the Babe in the manger’s birth bring hope for the days to come.

Love to all, Jennifer & John

 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Friends, all went well. Only needed a partial. I will be going home later today. Thanks for your words of encouragement, your thoughts and your prayers.

 

Sunday, November 27, 2016
Friends, it will be a few days until I write again. Tomorrow is my surgery, so I expect that I won’t be in any condition to make any cogent comments for a while. I am confident that the surgery will go well, and hope for a complete recovery. Thanks you for your thoughts and prayers. Oh, knowing myself the way I do, Jennifer likely will need your thoughts and prayers also.

 

Saturday, November 26, 2016
Today is the day to put on your school’s colors, cook some tailgating food and cheer against you most hated rival. Or, it’s the day to get in the car or take a bus and drive downtown and support the small businesses attempting to compete with the massive box stores.

I’m in Columbus, Ohio with Jenn’s family and the day is devoted to dressing in scarlet and grey to once again participate in the traditional afternoon with the hated rival dressed in maize and blue. This is the most intense of all the football rivalries, at least in the northern clime. My home state is hoping the maroon and gold can finally reclaim Paul Bunyon’s axe by dispatching the red and white. I’m not holding my breath. It’s been twelve years since the Axe has spent anytime in Gopherland. It may come home this year, or more likely it will stay in Badgerville.

In the land where I live, the Cardinals and Wildcats will face off again. It always surprises me as a nonnative Kentuckian at the depth of the hatred between these two schools. My perception is that Big Blue may hate the Red more, but not by much.

I have been up close and personal to such rivalries, both as high school player and a high school coach. And as a fan of one team that hasn’t won a championship in more than 60 years and another that has never won a championship. It is an ascetic practice. Every once in a while there is a glimmer of hope. For instance, this year one of these teams won the first six games of the year. The band wagon was getting crowded. Then they lost five of the next six. There’s plenty of room on the wagon now. Unhappily, the other team hasn’t even been able to find their bandwagon.

So, the best use of they day may well be strolling down Main Street, checking out the stores your neighbors own, perhaps having been in the family for a few generations. In many of these stores one can find handmade one of a kind items, the kind of things that become heirlooms overtime. Or, one might stay home and prepare for Advent’s arrival tomorrow.

Who am I kidding? When’s the kickoff!

 

Thursday, November 24, 2016
A very Happy Thanksgiving to you my Facebook family. In spite of whatever we have faced this year, we have much for which to be thankful. I am grateful to those who encouraged me to do Lenten posts this year, and for all of you who read them. Your comments encouraged me to continue. And again, to you who encouraged to pick it up again. It gives me such joy to be staying connected with you. I hope once in a while one of these posts find space in your heart. May the Divine be with you and bless you

 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016
“We make the road by walking,” so says author Brian McLaren. What if one is in a wheelchair? Can that person make their own road? I am becoming more and more concerned about the ways that the words we choose to use exclude many people. I suppose some readers might scroll down without reading any farther, assuming that I am about to launch into a rant on being politically correct. They would be correct, although I don’t think it will be much of a rant.

Why is it that being politically correct is so enraging for some? What is it about using language that refers to people with respectful and non-prejudicial words so hard to stomach? I don’t get it! Is it that they prefer the older less precise descriptors, or could it be that to use politically correct language is to admit that in the past some of their word choices were hurtful and bigoted?

Language is constantly changing. Words which roll off our tongues today were not even created five or ten years ago, or, they have taken on new meaning.

I prefer to be addressed with respect and with affirming language rather disrespected and mocked. Words can hurt and words can heal. Words are more powerful than any weapons of mass destruction or any instruments of peace. But even something as benign as “we make the road by waking,” is hurtful to those who are unable to walk.

Now, I know Brian McLaren a little, and I know he would never intentionally exclude anyone, still, he has, as have I. But I want to believe I never use exclusive language nor demeaning language, at least not intentionally. Therefore, I do try to be politically correct. It’s not that hard. Really! Since words are so very powerful, doesn’t the Golden Rule demand that we at least try to be politically correct?

 

Tuesday, November, 22, 2016
I am not much into saints. Like most of you, I am most familiar with St. Francis and one of the newest saints, St. Theresa. I am familiar with others, including St. Cecilia who is celebrated on November 22.

St. Cecilia is the patron saint of music and musicians, which is likely the reason I know today is her day. Her story is like so many other of the saints of the church, laden in obscurity and mystery. She is believed to have lived in the second century and was like many other women of the early church, a virgin by devotion and choice. However, her parents married her off anyway. During the wedding ceremony, Cecilia was said to have heard angelic singing, thus the designation as the saint for music and music makers. There is, of coarse, much more to her legend, but that will suffice for now.

Music has always played a big part in my life. I learned to sing at home. Whenever there was a family gathering, Grandpa Max (Maxwell) would sit down at the piano and everyone would gather around and sing whatever he played. I sang in choirs at church and in school. Took piano and organ lessons for years, never becoming very proficient. Played the baritone horn and tuba in band. I majored in music in college, singing in the Bethel Choir for five years. Cut my conducting teeth on various church choir and taught Senior High Choir for eleven years. That was followed by a Master Degree in Sacred Music, more church choir leadership and twenty-plus years of directing the Regional Men’s Chorus of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Kentucky.

Music has brought me much joy and a bit of sadness. I have made hundreds of friends and but a very few enemies. Without it, I have no idea who I would be. So during this week for giving thanks, I give thanks to all those who have played or sung with me and for me. But most of all, I give thanks for those teachers who nurtured my musicianship and put up with my mistakes. Let me share just a few names: Tom Haugen, Bruce Phelps, Robert Berglund, Oliver Mogck, Dale Warland, John Dickson, Hugh McElrath and Ron Turner.

 

Sunday, November 20, 2016
Sometimes you can’t help but feel proud and want to brag a little. Today is one of those days. I think we always worship well at First Christian in Frankfort. Sometimes our worship is awesome, and am reluctant to use that overused word. But today, at our 10:45 service, the worship was, well, unbelievable.

While many of our sister churches celebrated Christ the King Sunday, we celebrated Thanksgiving. With next Sunday being the First Sunday ofAdvent, if we wanted to celebrate Thanksgiving, it had to be today. It was a service I will long remember. While the choir sang beautifully, with a SanKara Harouna as soloist and Keith McCutchen as guest organist, and the Rose Street Brass from the University of Kentucky, including our own Coleman Scott, played beautifully, it was the Kentucky State University Unity Dance group that inspired beyond words

I am not much of a dancer. When my schoolmates were dancing in 7th and 8th grade PE, I was sitting in the bleachers watching. And that pretty much determined my dancing career. But that does not mean I can’t be inspired by graceful, intentional, beautiful, inspiring movement. That is exactly what we received this morning. These young women portrayed thanksgiving for God’s undeserved goodness with lyrical grace and beauty. It was spellbinding. It was a Thanksgiving celebration I will always cherish as time moves on.

What about you? Is there something that has inspired you to humbly bow in gratitude and awe? Do you have a special thanksgiving to offer this year. I hope you do. I had others that I would have mentioned, if asked, before today, but Thanks Be for these women and their willingness to be vulnerable as they shared God’s love in their lives!

You will be able view these young women on our church Facebook page sometime tomorrow.

Saturday, November 19, 2016
What does it mean to be attentive? It seems to me that attentiveness is a very underused, misunderstood ability. I imagine most of us think we are pretty attentive, at least to the people in our lives who make a difference, but I doubt if we really are attentive?

We often talk about the need for being good listeners, and clearly that is a need. But it seems to me that being attentive is more important than being a good listener. Although, being a good listener is part of being attentive. To be a good listener is to hear what is being said. To be attentive is to hear what is not being said. To be a good listener is to engage the person eye to eye. To be attentive is to read the body language and note vocal inflection.

I think it is becoming more and more difficult to be attentive. Much of our communication is no longer face to face. Much of it is text to text. No matter how many emoji one employees or how one uses capitalization, the lack of personal presence renders the practice of attentiveness nearly impossible. How does one discern if a regret is heartfelt, when the heart is literally far away? How does one come to discover whether one is telling the truth if the story being told is covered by miles of distance. I don’t use “Twittter,” but I imagine it is even more difficult to be attentive when one has a very limited number of characters available!

Perhaps that’s the purpose of our engagement in social media? The formate allows us to keep in touch but never embrace. It lets us feel like we have been in contact but without risking anything personal. It pretends to be personal but is clearly impersonal. I mean, when was the last time I looked into your eyes, let alone was attentive to what wasn’t being said and the attendant body language? Yes, we live in an age when personal space has grown by leaps and bounds. What we have lost, then, is contact, touch and presence. Just as we purchase online, we court online, we relate online. And sometimes there is a great fit, but most of the time, I think, it’s return to sender.

I thank God everyday that Facebook allows me to be in relationship with all of you, but deep down, I yearn for something more – deeper and more profound, something that can’t travel from modem to modem.

 

Friday, November 18, 2016
One week from today will be “Black Friday.” If ever there was a demonstration of how advertising and consumerism drives our lives today, next Friday is it! I doubt we think all that much about it, how we are being constantly bombarded with ads and message encouraging us to buy, buy buy. The purchasing consumer is the driving force behind the free market society. That’s why President Bush encouraged us to go shopping after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. He knew that if we stopped purchasing products out of fear or anger that the stock market would not be able to withstand the twin blows of the attack on America and an attack on the marketplace.

If we took Christmas shopping out of the economic equation, most of the retail operations in the USA would struggle mightily. They need Black Friday and the rest of the pre-Christmas shopping days to turn a red inked year into one inked in black. I have ventured out on Black Friday and I have even made major purchases, but in retrospect, I sometimes wish I would not have done so. It feels, well, a little grimy.

Why? Well, I have come to believe that rampant consumerism is unhealthy. That the drive to have more, better and newer is not one which brings value into our lives. I believe it primarily brings stress and disappointment. Very few of us have the wherewithal to fulfill our “hearts’ desires.” And those who do, have the wherewithal, seem to find the striving unfulfilling.

I think Jesus was right when he said that “where one’s treasure is, there will the heart be also.” Our hearts are being seduced into a heinous belief that if we just have this treasure or we just have that treasure, our hearts will be happy and fulfilled. We know that it’s a lie, but we still chase after it as if it were the low hanging fruit on the tree of life.

The real truth is that our hearts are happiest, not when we are acquiring treasures, but when we are sharing them. So, isn’t it something, how the idea of Christmas, has morphed from being a time of giving from the heart into a time of giving out of guilt? Is it possible for us to even consider more satisfying ways of celebrating this Season than the endless shopping for toy and trinkets that really are not needed? But we do so, so that our loved ones (and not so loved ones) will think well of us.

I’m not anti shopping on Black Friday, and I’m not anti Christmas giving, but I wonder if this year, before we once again join the race to line up for the latest hot toy, we might consider not the cost of the gift, but the cost to the giver.

 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016
I just drove passed the Frankfort Independent Elementary School, Second Street. It was the wrong time to be there as school was letting our for the day and moms and dads were backed up waiting for their children, busses were turning onto the road, children were crossing the street. So, it took a little bit of time to drive by. What struck me was two little girls, maybe second graders, wearing the exact same backpacks, and arm thrown around the back of their friend as the walked down the street. One of the girls was white, the other was black.

Obviously, the difference in skin color had no impact on these future voters. They see the world through color blind tinted lenses. I’m sure that across these United States that there were many other pairs of children, also having differing skin hues, walking home from school together.

Perhaps the bigger surprise, bigger than their lack of racial concern, was the fact that they were walking home unaccompanied. Does that even happen anymore? Are there others schools in other towns where second graders are on their own getting to and from school? I remember those days, but I guess I had come to believe that the streets of America were unsafe. Now let me be clear, I am not unhappy to see this. In fact, I am delighted that there are still places where children can safely walk home from school, play in a park or ride a bike.

Yes, I know there are places where such freedom is not possible. There are many places in this country where constant vigilance is necessary. But isn’t it good to know that the memories our childhoods are still available to some today? I loved riding my bike to the swimming pool or the Little League games. I always walked to and from school (until I was able to drive a car). I never once remember being afraid, except on a roller coaster.

Although I know that the famous quotation from the prophet Isaiah, “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them,” is often misinterpreted (and will be here!), seeing these two children (and all the other children) who are unaffected by differences which so infect adults, gives me hope. Children really are more likely to practice inclusion than exclusion. Unhappily they are also likely to learn the “evil art” of exclusion before reaching adulthood, but my promise to myself and all of you is to never be the one teaching that abhorrent lesson.

 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016
“If we believe that God created the world and that we are made in the image of God, we can understand that this basic human impulse and capacity toward creativity is a gift from God that we must treasure, cultivate and share.” (Gisela H. Kreglinger)

One of the basic tenants of our faith is that God is the Creator God. While we are continually delving into the genius of creation and how it has unfolded, we affirm the sheer magnitude of gullibility associated with accepting creation as phenomena of pure chance. That creation is ongoing is a scientific fact, one that does not diminish our faith in a Creator, but rather enriches that faith.

Too often, I think, we get wrapped up in arguments usually summed up by evolution vs. creationism. To join that particular fight is to wage an un- winnable war. Rather, I think we should be always blessing creativity and recognizing its many forms. Why is it that we see the beauty of creation in a beautiful painting but not in the microchip? Are not both creative and both elegant? Why is the creative process usually limited to an aesthetic ideal rather that a scientific formula? Isn’t beauty found in the Pathagorean formula?

To honor our Creator is to recognize that all our creativity is an icon of Divine splendor. It is to recognize that some of us have a gift in sculpture, some in musical composition and some in genome mapping. We do not diminish either the Creator or the creature creation when we recognize basic giftedness, which is best served through the addition of intense education, imagination and application. All of us are best served when each of us is respected, our gifts honored and our creativity appreciated and the Creator blessed.

 

Monday, November 14, 2016
Two weeks from today I will be having knee replacement surgery. When I was in the ninth grade I was a wrestler. I hurt my right knee one day during practice. A few days later I underwent surgery for the removal of the meniscus on the inside of the knee which had buckled. Since then, I have always had issues with that knee. The only good thing is that it has gotten pretty good at predicting rain.

Today is all about preparing for the surgery. These days, at the University of Kentucky Hospitals, one must go through a rather extensive preoperative procedure. It started with getting approval from the cardiologist. There was a meeting with a nurse and all the usual questions. Even though the cardiologist didn’t think I needed another EKG, I had one in August, the nurse decided I did. Then there was lab work. The usual stuff. And now I am sitting in a conference room with others having the same surgery, waiting for the two-hour orientation class to begin.

I suppose it’s all good but I’d just as soon get it over – the surgery, I mean. While my knee has definitely deteriorated, it is livable, if one likes have constant pain. And while I am not looking forward to the lengthy recovery, I am looking forward to not walking like Festus of Gunsmoke fame any longer.

Well, looks like the class is about to begin so I had better bring this to an end. This aging thing is more troublesome than anticipated. It was harder being thirty-five than twenty-five. And it is even more difficult being sixty-two than fifty-two. That said, life is sweet and really good. Quoting my friend Bill, “I’m blessed.” Good friends are a gift and a loving life partner is a greater joy than I had ever imagined. So, don’t think I am asking for sympathy, I am not. Just letting my friends know what’s going on with me. My spirit is good. My faith is secure. My hope is steadfast. And I’m in love. Thank you for being my friends.

 

Sunday, November 13, 2016
There is little in life that is better than taking a nap! We need them far more than we think, and need far more than get. At least that’s what I think and I’m sticking with it! Sunday afternoon is of coarse the most natural and best time for a little shut eye, but it’s just not enough. I could use one every afternoon.

Our lives are filled with so many appointments and duties that we can never accomplish them all. How often do we say that there just aren’t enough hours in the day? 24 hours are pretty much all we get. But I think we get more done, in less time, when we are rested. And, I think we do a better job of separating the useless clutter tasks from those that are significant when our spiritual and psychic energies are replenished with sufficient rest.

One doesn’t have to be asleep to rest, but it is the best way to rest. More and more we are becoming more sleep deprived. A short nap is no substitute for a good night’s sleep, but a short nap (20-30 minutes) can improve concentration, alertness and productivity. The National Sleep Foundation says, “Nappers are in good company: Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Napoleon, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison and George W. Bush are known to have valued an afternoon nap.”

Why did our parents and teachers decide to end nap period? If it was good for us as children to eat healthy, exercise regularly, play often and nap daily, why is that as adults we have retained our emphasis on exercise, play and healthy eating, but mostly eliminated all our napping? But more than needing adequate sleep for energy and concentration, I think we need it for our spiritual lives. We are more likely to regularly participate in effective spiritual practices if we are well rested. Most spiritual practices lead us into quiet and centering, where we can attentively listen for the Divine. When those end in unintentional napping the spiritual impact is negated and the Divine voice stilled. At least that’s what I think, and I’m sticking with it!

 

Friday, November 11, 2016
I recently ran across a quote that stopped me short. I never had a thought quite like it and it I wasn’t sure what I thought about it. “The revelation of God’s glory does not merely manifest itself ethically in love to the neighbor but also aesthetically in festive play before God.”

Truthfully I seldom think about God’s glory. I’m not even certain that I know what it is. But my life is built around the theme of ethical love as the result of God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ. Love of neighbor is the focus of almost all of Jesus’ teaching. The Golden Rule is the summation of that teaching. So ethical living – living in proper relationship with those around us and the earth is a paramount principle in my faith journey.

Now, I have never – and I do mean never – thought of play as being an important faith ethic as well. Nor have I thought much about play as being aesthetic. Nor that somehow God is active or a participant in my play life. I mean, my ugly golf swing can hardly be aesthetically pleasing to God or anyone else!

However, I must admit that when I watch the graceful move of a receiver going up into the air and turning their body to catch the football, it is aesthetically pleasing – even if I never thought of that way before. And watching Jordan Speeth swing a golf club is indeed a thing of beauty. Just as was watching Nyquist holding off the late surge of Exaggerator in the Kentucky Derby was an exquisite moment.

Perhaps God’s glory is found in play! And perhaps play is as important as ethical love? I’m not sure it will help my golf swing, but it’s worth thinking about.

 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

This post is a portion of what I wrote in my church’s newsletter this morning:

We woke up this morning to a nation deeply divided. And whether it was Mr. Trump or Ms. Clinton who prevailed, the divides, I think, would be much the same. 1) There are those who were passionately supporters of their candidate. They either bled and died or sang and danced this morning. They have very different views on what this country should look like and how we should go about being Americans in an ever changing world. 2) There are those who held their noses when they voted, not really excited about their candidate, but even less excited about the other one. They are not feeling either the joy or the depth of despair that the first two groups are feeling today. 3) There is also a group who voted for a third party candidate, knowing full well that their candidate didn’t have a chance. I expect that they are feeling the same today as they did yesterday – that something is amiss in America. 4) And of course there is the apathetic or disinterested group who didn’t vote. They may feel all voted out, with their vote never meaning anything anyway, or they may simply not care who is in office.

For me, it is these divisions which are of the most concern. The division between the candidates’ ardent supporters is vast. They see the world through very different lenses. They are not likely to find much common ground for working together or engaging in fruitful conversation. The vision and passion of the two groups in the middle may not be separated by as wide a chasm, but they still come at things from different perspectives. If we are to have hope for a more unified America, then it likely to come from the intercourse of these groups of citizens. It won’t be easy but I believe that is where we must begin. As for the last group, I am not sure how we reach out to them.

What I am sure of is that withdrawal will achieve nothing, that shouting will assure nothing and that apathy will avail nothing. Each of us must go about the work of being better listeners and engaged citizens, if we are to make progress at uniting our country.

 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016
I voted today. I bet you did too. It is a rather amazing thing, to vote for a transition from one regime to another. Wars are often fought for such a change of leadership. We are so used to it that more than fifty percent of us don’t even engage in the process.

I feel sympathy for those who feel their vote makes no difference. I can empathize with those who choose to not vote. But I can not agree with it. At the presidential level, my vote today made absolutely no difference, except to me. There was no chance, and I knew it, that my State’s electoral votes would go to the candidate that I preferred. But my vote mattered to me. And I know that the further “down ballot” we move, the more my vote made a difference. But even if it had no significant impact in those races, I still would have voted.

It is a privilege to live in the United States of America. I have done nothing to earn – to deserve this joy. I was born into it and I chose to not serve in its defense. Yes, I pay taxes, but that fact pales in comparison to the price some have paid to be an American. So I believe it is incumbent to participate in the political process.

At some level, I don’t care who wins to night. At another, I care deeply. But I believe the the founders of the nation put in place checks and balances which assure our ongoing existence. I know that the country will change in very different ways depending on who we vote into office. Yet I am confident that we will survive. It is humbling to see the interest of other countries in the outcome of our Constitutional process. They recognize the importance America plays in their own situation and in the world. I imagine they think we are crazy, but if they do, they have failed to understand the strength of our people and the process.

So, whether we elect our first woman president or an outsider, I am proud to be an American.

 

Monday, November 6, 2016

Daylight Saving Time has come to an end. There’s more light earlier in the morning and less light earlier in the evening. As I was standing at the Chapel door Sunday morning, welcoming people coming to our 8:30 service, the sun was blinding coming through the windows. Just one week earlier there had almost been no sun. It reminded me of one of my favorite images of God.

In the 121st Psalm, God is described as “the shade at our right hand.” I love that image. All of us, at one time or another, have stuck our right hand up above our heads, using it as a shield to keep the sun from blinding us. When driving a car, there is little more frustrating than when the visor won’t block the sun and we slide over in the seat, or move our head, or as a final choice – stick a hand up.

The thing that strikes me, is that the sun is important, we need it, want it and yet there are times that we must block it in order to safely traverse the path before us. Life is filled with good choices, where whichever choice we make will likely to lead to success. Sometimes, however, one of those good looking choices may be a deception, hidden by all that glitters and glows. It is at those times, I think, that being open to allowing God to be our shade, helping us to see more clearly, is critically important. For too often we choose the shiniest choice only later to discover that it was neither glittering or glowing.

I am not one who thinks we need to go to God for every decision in life. God gave us brains and expects us to use them. But when it is difficult to see, not because of the dark, but because of the light, then having God as a shade to keep the sun from striking is a really good thing.

 

Thursday, November 3, 2016
I guess that miracles still do happen. No, I’m not talking about the Cubs, I’m talking about reconnecting with one time best friends who had passed into obscurity. These may be friends from a former life, or friends from a bygone job or neighborhood friends long forgotten. The renewal of even one such friendship is a miraculous experience, far more significant than any baseball game, even one as exciting as last night’s World Series game seven. (To my Cleveland friends, my deepest regards, it was a great year and an exceptional series.)

Friendship is difficult to define. We seem to think that it is word in need of modifiers. We have old friends and new friends; best friends and family friends; girl friends and guy friends, but we hardly have any who rate being just friends.

What constitutes friendship? Is it shared interests or hobbies? Is it shared experiences or ideas? Is it common friends or family? Is it history or anticipated futures?

I am blessed to have a large number of friends. If one believes Facebook, I have 770 friends! But some of my friends aren’t even on Facebook. And, is it even possible to have 770 friends, or are all of you something else? There must be some mutual attraction. Either you invited me or I invited you to be a Facebook friend. Some of you I see everyday. Some of you I haven’t seen for years. That seems to indicate the friendship is not bound by either space or time, that somehow, we manage to keep friendships relevant without the intrusion of space or time.

I suppose all this is to say that a friend is a gift, most often undeserved, but freely given. It can’t be bought, but it can be lost. To all of you, thank you for being my friends. I’m richly blessed.

One of my lost friends who lives on in blessed memory always walked into the faculty lunch room at the school where I taught with a grin – not be confused with his simple smile – but an ear to ear grin and proclaimed to all in earshot, “Hello all my friend!” I always got a chuckle at his lack of the plural, but as with everything about Don Dennison, I suspect there was a reason behind the twinkle in his eye and lack of an s. I think that he was speaking to each one of us individually, calling each of us friend, not because we were in the room, or a colleague, but because he considered each of us a friend:)

So, “Thank You, all my friend!”

 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Friends , it has become challenging for me to write posts that might be meaningful and non-political. It’s not because I have no political opinions, but rather that I have hoped to keep this a more spiritual posting than anything else. I can’t add anything that will speak more powerfully than anyone else about this election and I am not interested in being offensive, at least about politics. If I challenge someone’s thinking about their spiritual leanings, then I have succeeded, for I am convinced that without an intentional spiritual life, life is unfulfilling.

The problem for me is that the noise of this election has become so overwhelming, that it is difficult to hear anything else. Preachers, poets, politicians, publishers and pundits are all caught in this election’s caustic cacophony. Reading, of any kind, has become difficult. Conversations have become cautious or contentious. Even sitting in a surgical waiting room has become tortuous, not for the waiting, but for the multiple loud political conversations taking place.

I wish I had something to say that would make it better, like a parent kissing a booboo. But some wounds/injuries are kiss proof. And yes, I think this has been an injurious campaign and all of us are suffering as a consequence. It is imperative that we begin the healing process now, we must not wait.

The winner of this election is less critical than our spiritual health. And neither of them are likely to focus on righting the wrongs perpetrated during this ordeal. So it is up to each of us to bring spiritual healing to ourselves, our friends and our families. Instead of focusing on the political fallout, let’s focus on spiritual health. It begins with centering ourselves so that we once again discover our rightful place in this world. For me, that is the power of prayer.

 

Sunday, October 30, 2016
I love to read. I think I have said that before, but I wanted to say it again. Right now I have three books going. There’s the book for the Academy class I am leading, The Spirituality of Wine. There’s a book for my soul, Learning to Walk in the Dark. And there’s a cheap mystery, The Jefferson Key.

Sometimes we find something where we least expect it. I don’t read my espionage novels for inspiration, I read them for fun. But there it is, rightthere on page 517, a thought that speaks a truth that I needed to hear. “Follow your heart, it rarely leads you astray. It’s thinking that gets us into trouble.”

Is that you too? Are you one of those people who tend to overthink everything? Do you agonize over decisions spending a huge amount of emotional and intellectual energy? I do. I can spend days trying to see a situation from every point of view, hoping that I will be prepared to respond whatever happens. Weighing options and measuring responses. And when it is time to act, I choose to do the thing that was my initial thought anyway, wasting all that time and energy. If only I had gone with my heart in the first place!

I think that we are living in a day when leading with one’s heart is seen as weakness. Somehow, someplace, someone has convinced us that the heart is untrustworthy, that only the brain can be trusted to make the right decision. And I don’t think this is a new phenomena. It seems to me that this same “dis-ease” infected many during the life of Jesus of Nazareth. They though about their faith too much, analyzing every rule and law until it reached a point of “unlive-ability.” They built rule around rule around rule all to protect their tradition, rather than allowing their tradition to inspire their living. The Teacher came leading from his heart, inviting us then and now to listen to our heart. To be open. To be generous. To be caring. To be kind. To love, rather than hate. To pray for, rather than strike out. To follow our hearts, rather than following our heads.

Saturday, October 29, 2016
There is a cat sitting outside the house on the window sill. So Grace, one of our four indoor cats, who was sitting on the end table near where I am reclining watching football, used two leaps to cover the distance to the window, where she began to talk at the other cat. Grace almost never makes a sound, so it was a bit surprising to hear her cattering away. (I don’t know if catering is a word or not, but it works for me.)

I know people like that. The silent type. It’s not that they are oblivious to their surroundings, it’s just that they don’t see any reason to say much of anything, so mostly they don’t. But when someone gets a little too close, whether in physical proximity or emotional proximity, they jump to it, protecting their space.

It’s fascinating to watch because it inevitably comes as a surprise. We don’t expect it and the ferocity is shocking. There must be a little “mama bear with her cubs” mentality in all of us, perhaps even in all creatures?

What is it that sets off such action? Is it about space, whether physical or emotional? If it is, why are we so protective of something we can never really possess? People often say, “You’re invading my space!” But why is it their space and not the other person’s? Not looking for an answer. Just posing something to think about.

 

Friday, October 28, 2016
“The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus (1849–1887)

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

On October 28, 1886, The Statue of Liberty was dedicated. Ms. Lazarus’ poem was written a few years later to help raise funds for the the construction of the monument’s pedestal.

When I was child attending Luverne Elementary School, I was a member of the chorus (no big surprise there). I remember only two songs from those days. In the days of the “race to space”, “I’m a Space Cadet Cowboy,” spoke to every American boys’ and girls’ hope that America would be the first to the moon. I’ve looked for the song, but can’t find it anywhere. All I remember is the title and a little of the melody, but the aspirations of a generation were summed up in that little ditty.

The other song that I recall from those early years was an arrangement of “The New Colossus.” I don’t remember if the entire poem was used? What I remember began with “Give me your tired, your poor…” Those who know me well know that I am a softie. Tears can well up at anytime over almost anything. Perhaps it began with this song? Something about the words brought a lump in my throat and tears to my eyes. I don’t know why, but those words have continued to mean much. Perhaps it is knowing that I too am the off-spring of immigrants who came to this land to find freedom and opportunity. And people keep coming, and that too brings a lump in my throat and tears to my eyes. It’s good to know that for all our problems and divisions, Lady Liberty still beckons.

 

Thursday, October 27, 2016
I feel certain that you are as tired of the campaigning as am I. I’m sick of the name calling, the dated video recordings, Wikileaks and 24/7 coverage. It has sapped my creative juices. I’m so inundated with the electioneering that I am finding it difficult to think about anything else. It is not a good thing for a person in my line of business.

I am not looking for a pity party. I am simply trying to understand the all around funk that seems to be permeating my environ. People seem to be trudging rather than trotting. The ratio of smiles to sneers is troubling. Friendships built on solid respect have been shaken to the breaking point. Tempers are short and patience is shorter.

I guess it is up to each of us to refuse to succumb to the pollution filling the air. It is up to each of us to be positive, hopeful, and engage in non-divisive conversations. Rather than starting a conversation down election road, I suggest we take a road less traveled – any road less traveled. Even religion is safer than politics these days.

So, what have you been reading? Perhaps that would be a safer more uplifting subject. I’m reading “The Spirituality of Wine.” I’ve been surprised by the the amount of scripture referencing wine, vineyards and vines? I have been surprised by the role of the church in introducing grapes to various parts of the world. It seems that wherever the church has ventured, they have planted vineyards. The writer is at her best when she is lifting up the theme of the unity of creation, that the earth is primarily a garden and that humans are primarily gardeners. And, that the fruits of the gardener’s labors are divinely good and Divinely blessed. Whether one enjoys an occasional glass of wine, or one prefers grapes in their pre-liquid state, there is great good in the sharing and the pleasure! And don’t we need a bit of pleasure.

 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016
Every person has their own favorite season. I think I prefer Fall. I know that it leads to winter which is my least favorite season, but I like Fall best. This has been a wonderful Fall in Kentucky. Mostly dry. Mostly sunny. Mostly warm. The colors have not been as brilliant as some years, but it still has been pretty spectacular.

It is the colors that draw me to Fall. There is no other time that creation so wondrously sings its Divine origin. The textures and hues are as varied as snowflakes. A pile of leaves still calls to me, “Jump in! You’re not too old!” I don’t jump anymore, but still I think I might someday.

Yes, Fall means football. But Fall also means pumpkin carving and the beginning of the seasons for lawn decorations. It means marching bands and apple butter. You can still be outdoors and be comfortable without ten layers of clothes. Two light layers will usually do. And what is better than shuffling along through a blanket of leaves crunching under foot?

Fall means All Saints Day, a time to remember and honor friends and family who have moved from one plain of existence to the next. It is a time of tears laced with laughter and smiles that may never found your face. And Fall means Veterans Day, a day not to mourn those who have died in service of this country, but to say “Thank You” to those who have served and continue to live in our midst. Yes, Fall is my favorite season and whether it is yours or not, I hope you will find this Fall to be one of your best!

 

Monday, October 24, 2016
Most of us think of Monday as the first day of the week, although our calendars tell us that the first day is actually Sunday. And, for most of us, Monday is the first day of work in the new week. I guess I fall into that box too, in some ways, although I do clearly see Sunday as the first day of the week. Perhaps because I get to work every Sunday.

Anyway, I am in my office, having spent a couple of hours at the hospital with members of our church family. And as always, with the week in front of me, it is being a bit difficult to decide where to begin. There is plenty of work which needs to be done. But I am not sure where to begin. Yes, I could make a list of priorities. Yes, I could number that list by order of importance or due date. But I hate making lists and don’t care all that much about due dates.

Why is it that we are so consumed by lists and due dates. Why do we allow our lives to be dictated by time? We count the months in a year, the days in a month, the hours in a day and the minutes in an hour. And what does it give us? Mostly it gives us anxiety.

For eleven years I lived by school bells telling me it was time to end class and time to begin another one. I never really got used to it. We might be right in the middle of really making music – something that doesn’t happen everyday – and the beauty of the moment was destroyed by the ringing of the bell. Now, we might be in the midst of a moving and meaningful worship service and some phone goes off informing all of us that adherence to the time to end the service was more important than ending the service well.

As best I can tell, the Creator only gave us days and years. Humans burdened each with minute divisions. Perhaps we would do well if our lives were less divided by minutes and hours and more unified by days and years? Well, it’s something to think about anyway. And maybe then we could do away with lists!

 

Friday, October 21, 2016
My car has a rear window wiper. It is totally worthless! It smears rather than wipes. I’ve had the blade changed a couple of times, but it makes absolutely no difference. I need it to work. It’s not too bad while it is actually raining, as long as I keep the wiper on all the time. But when the roadway is wet and the tires are splattering the moisture up, then the wiper is exclusively in smear mode.

Wouldn’t it be helpful if our minds had a rear wiper? I mean, wouldn’t it be great if the memories that cause us pain and possibly even shame would be smeared, rather than being so clear and guilt producing? We all have things in our past that we would rather forget completely. And, we all have things that we would like to remember more clearly. The former, in my experience, are negative and cause us to dwell on our unworthiness to love and be loved. The later, in my experience, are healthier, and can lead us down the road of self worth and loving realtinships.

I would love go have an intelligent, sensitive rear wiper that knew the difference; smearing the negative and clearing the way to see the positive more distinctly. What would be even better, would be to be able to forgive ourselves for our missteps. But forgiveness is difficult.

My goal, is to be able to change the dialogue in my mind and in my soul, so that when those negative memories crowd the positive, that I can give thanks for those missteps in the past, because they serve to shape my path forward. I seek to give thanks and claim those missteps, for they have made me who I am today. And I am a person of value (although it has taken me a while to be able to say that to myself). And you are a person of value too! I cherish you and your friendship. And I know God cherishes you too!

 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016
Every time I come and sit in the library at the church, I wonder if there is a future for libraries; church, school or public. While the space is lovely, quiet, peaceful and comfortable, almost no one uses it to look for books or to relax and reflect. If I am honest, it is old; the books are outdated, the furnishings are antiques and the pictures on the walls are of folk who hardly anyone remembers.

I am fond of libraries. As a child, the family went to the Rock County Carnegie Library at least once a week. As a high school student we went to the school library to escape study hall. Hours were spent in the music library during my college years. The same during seminary. I nearly lived in the library at Drew University; working 20 hours a week in the research department and living in my carrel for many many more.

We have an excellent library in Frankfort. It is heavily used, but more and more of the catalogue is available online. And that is the state of affairs in every library. I guess my love for books and reading is at least in part due to my hospitable experiences in libraries everyplace I have lived. But If I am to be honest, I seldom use the library now and more and more read only electronically, even for professional reading.

I am afraid that we are gradually losing something really good. I fear we are allowing ourselves to become more and more isolated as we less and less gather in public spaces, especially places where there is quiet and comfort. And, I fear we are reading less. If that is true, that is a real concern. How about loading your family in the car and heading to the nearest library. Encourage everyone to check out a book, a book with paper pages. Then find a quiet sitting area and spend a few minutes. I am confident that given time, it will become a family tradition.

 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016
Well, I’ve finally done it. I’ve managed to get people on the right and on the left to agree on something about this election. Friends on both the right and the left have agreed that my last sentence in yesterday’s missive may not be true. They question whether America has systems in place which will allow the country to continue on its course whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump is elected the next president.

I wish I could say that my ability to get the two sides to agree makes me proud. However, it makes me sad. I never thought that I would live to see the day when I have friends who feel like this country may not be able to endure an election.

I am not so naïve as to believe that this country will endure forever. No country does. Egypt fell. Assyria fell. Babylon fell. Greece fell. Rome fell. And someday, too, shall America as we know it come to an end. But I do not believe America will fall on November 9, nor anytime soon. Yes, we have massive debt. Yes, we have a Congress that is seemingly incapable of working together. Yes, we have an ugly election in process. Yes, we have a Supreme Court that is short one Justice. Yes, there are cultural and social issues which divide the people of this country. Yes, there are a multitude of faiths seeking to co-cexist within this land. Yes, there is much that is wrong with this country, however, there is much more that gives me hope. And I am most hopeful because in this country I have friends who disagree so strongly but still are my friends. Am I naive? Perhaps, but I trust my friends and expect you trust yours as well.

 

Monday, October 17, 2016
Yesterday I had a very painful reminder that our children are far more perceptive than we often give them credit. While nearly all of us would agree that his has been an ugly presidential campaign, I wonder how many of us have given much thought to how this campaign may be affecting our children.

What do our children think when they hear talk of destroyed emails or so called “locker room” talk? What do they hear when one candidate calls the other a criminal and that that candidate should be “locked up?” How do they feel when there is talk about marital infidelity? Do they worry about their friends when they hear promises to build walls and to “send them back where they are from?”

I guess I hadn’t really given it much thought until yesterday when I heard a story that stopped me in my tracks. It was the very true story of a young girl who asked her parents if the members of her family would become slaves after the election. How do I know it was true? It was those very parents who told me their story.

I know that I would never take the messages of the candidates and push the implications to such a disturbing conclusion, but a child does not have the years of political “calcification” that I have. Friends, I know many of you are parents and I hope you have already talked to your children about this election. I hope you have assured them that this great nation will continue on after the election; that whoever wins, the systems which our Founders put in place will continue to guarantee our freedoms and the durability of our democracy.

 

Friday, October 14, 2016
How do you best give and receive directions? I’m not talking about directions for putting a bicycle together. I’m talking about directions to a previously unvisited place.

It may seem like a stupid question in this day of Global Positioning Systems. They are on our phones and in our cars. Golf carts have them. Boats have them. And they can be found in many many other places. But sometimes we want to go places which are not yet mapped by a satellite. So do you give and best receive directions that are based on street names and numbers or are you more comfortable with directions based on landmarks?

How about your life’s map? Do you mark your life with dates and addresses or do you mark your life with events and personalities? I have friends that can recall time, date and place for the major events and even some of the minor ones in their lives. And I have other friends who have no idea of the day or time, but can tell you who was president or what color the leaves were when something significant occurred. Some talk about the blizzard of…. Others talk about ice skating on the streets…

There is no right and wrong of remembrance and recall, of mapping or measuring. But I do think it tells us something about a person when they tell us: “Go to the Seven Eleven and turn right till you get to the old Dairy Queen where you’ll turn left.”

A point to this musing? Not really. Just thinking about stories and timelines. Which are you, a story teller or a timeline writer? I can tell you about my moment of spiritual awakening – I know exactly what I was doing – what I was reading, who wrote it, who he was quoting – but if you ask me when or where? Clueless. Either way, I am truly grateful!

 

Thursday, October 13, 2016
They said it is going to rain today. It looks like rain, but it’s not raining. It’s just grey. And don’t we think grey days are lousy? I started reading a book this morning and right off the bat, before the first chapter begins, the author tell the reader that creation is good, that rain and sun and snow and grey – yes even grey – are good and to be enjoyed!

Remember when it was fun to play in the rain? To pull on the yellow rain coat and hat and run out into a downpour? Remember jumping into puddles and making mud pies? Remember getting soaked from head to foot and the wonderful feel of the post-play bath? When did rain become our enemy? When did we begin to cover our heads with a newspaper or a laptop? When did we stop looking heavenward with our mouths wide open? And why has grey become intolerable?

I know about seasonal affective disorder. It is real and can be very extremely debilitating. I understand the need for sunshine and the warm rays which wash away the grey. But I wonder, is there beauty to be found in a grey day? Or, is it an anomaly, a note of discord in the Divine symphonic creation we share?

In truth, I kind of like grey days (as long as there aren’t too many in a row). No need to wear sunglasses. (And it is really nonsensical to have them propped on top!). No having to pull down the visor, twisting it back and forth – windshield, window, windshield, window. A grey day is cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. And you can’t play in the rain or make angels in fresh falling snow, unless it’s a…

 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016
What is driving all the dissension in this land? It can’t be that everybody just has finally reached the end of their rope so they are now officially out to hang anyone who has a different perspective on things. How could it all happen at once? Is it like cancer, always there, just now becoming active. Is it like a broken bone, suddenly fractured?

I heard an interesting idea today. I’m not sure I agree with it, but this person believes that the cynicism, anger and violence loose in America is no longer being reported by news agencies. He suggests that it is driven by the news agencies. News agencies are ubiquitous and each and every one is looking for the latest scoop. In truth, every so called news program – a new one every hour – is looking for the dirt. With 24/7 programming there is an urgency for new news. This urgency has moved these programs from reporting to instigating.

There may well be some truth in his opinion, but I would be suspicious of pointing one’s finger in only one direction. I am inclined to think that there has been some sort of “aligning of the stars.” An African American President who many believe is unqualified. An improving economy which still has left millions of people behind. A do-nothing Congress bent on doing nothing. A handicapped Supreme Court. Banks scamming their customers. Wall Street booming while Main Street is a bust. Mass shootings and police shootings. Christianity broken by outspoken demagogues and internal bleeding.

So is there any way out of this? I don’t have many ideas, but the one I do have is making a commitment to be nice: to say kind words, do kind acts, to work for the good of others, to support those who care for our wounded, sick and dying, to support our peace officers without turning a blind eye to the few who don’t deserve our support, to be color blind, gender blind and orientation blind, to cherish our armed forces but always praying that they will never need be put in harm’s way. And I’m sure you can come up with others.

 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016
How does one live with integrity? It seems like a pretty simple little question but it seems like something that many of us struggle with. I suppose part of the problem is that there is no one all encompassing definition for integrity. When I Goggled the word, most of the definitions had to do with honesty and moral uprightness (who even uses the word uprightness), but my favorite was: “Integrity is a personal quality of fairness that we all aspire to — unless you’re a dishonest, immoral scoundrel, of course.”

However, it is the “second” definition that struck me as most telling, and although it usually isn’t directly applied to individuals, I think it should be: “the state of being whole.”

What makes a person whole? Humans are complex beings. We have emotional, physical, intellectual and spiritual sides. To be whole, I think would mean that each of these parts of our humanity are mature, integrated and open to constant growth or improvement. (As your can tell, I don’t think that being whole means being complete or perfect.) To be whole is to be physically active, have an active mind, be lovingly engaged with others and to have a well fed spirituality.

We are constantly encouraged to work on our physical wellbeing. Why? Because it is the part of us that can be easily observed. It is more difficult to discover if one has an active mind than if one has “cut abs.” We spend a minimum of twelve years nurturing our minds, many of going well beyond those initial twelve. Society and culture constantly encourage us to pursue love, although what they define as love may not be wholesome. But there are very few places in our lives which encourage us to develop a healthy spiritual life.

Religious institutions have usually been seen as the place for spiritual development, and many of them do a wonderful job. But just as there are those who tell us we can get “cut” in just eight minutes a day, which we know to be highly unlikely, there are those who tell us we can be spiritually whole by reading this book, or attending that seminar. Doing such things can be a healthy part of one’s spiritual life, but seldom do they actually succeed as advertised. The truth is, just as one must get regular exercise if one wants to be physical fit; just as one must be curious if one wants an active mind; just as if one must be open to love if one is to be in loving relationships; one must be open, curious and get regular spiritual exercise if one is to be whole spiritually. They may not be perfect, but I think regular church attendance is a great place to start.

 

October 10, 2016
Happy Canadian Thanksgiving to my good friend Bernie! I don’t know what you do for Canadian Thanksgiving, but I am certain it is not as much fun as Beergiving.

“Can you say anything nice about your opponent?” What a question to have to ask in a presidential debate! Actually, the questioner could have stopped at “Can you say anything nice?” It is a very sad situation when an election has become so toxic that such a question needs to be asked. I am certainthat someone in your life has told you what my mother told me, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything.” It would be a very quiet campaign if the candidates followed such sage wisdom.

Saying something nice has become scarce in our time. With the explosion of online “news” companies and the ongoing presence of “tabloid” television “journalism” digging for and exposing dirt, there is no airtime left for anything positive. This phenomena has made it nigh impossible to not feel like one’s voting choice is the lesser of two evils.

There was a time when I might have relished such scandalous behavior. It would have fed into my general pessimistic outlook. But my outlook has changed as I have matured and my spiritual life has deepened and has become central to my outlook. If redemption is possible for one like me, then it is possible for anyone. Yes, it can be depressing to realize how great a chasm separates the reign of God for which we live and long, and the world as it actually is. But if one sincerely believes in a Divine and that the Divine is working in the world – in and through people – then is it impossible to be a doomsday purveyor.

As a Christian (or anyone with profound integrity), rather than stress over the clear lack of civility today, one must choose to dig in and go to work to build bridges, tear down barriers and bring healing. While this is difficult work, it the most rewarding work one can do. And the good thing is, we don’t have to look very far to find a place to begin. We can start at home by treating our life partner and children with respect. We can shut down those conversations where work colleagues are denigrating others and especially our leaders. We can treat one another the way we want to be treated. And we can live in such a manner that others want to share in our lives. It may not seem like much, but the truth is, it’s everything.

 

October 8, 2016
I want to sit here and feel sorry for myself. I’ve been a Minnesota Gopher football fan all my life. It’s been more than 50 years since they were really good. Most of the years they were pretty bad. A couple of coaches have put pretty good teams on the field, but none have been able to sustain a winning tradition. It’s not much fun to go into the game each week wondering how they will lose this week.

I want to feel that way today, after all, they found a way to lose once more. But the real reality today is the damage and loss of life from hurricane Matthew. It’s impossible to be self absorbed when people are displaced, property destroyed, lives are lost and futures shaken. It’s just not right to fret over a game in the face of such great suffering.

But isn’t that true everyday? Aren’t there people living on the edge of life all the time? Why is it that we are deeply concerned about the vagaries of life in this hemisphere, but completely apathetic about those around the world who face poverty, homelessness, illness and hunger on a daily basis? What does it say about our faith, our values and our integrity when we spend more going to one football game than three-quarters of the world earn in an entire year?

Once upon a time, a great Teacher told his followers that the poor are with us always. It seems harsh and I guess it is, but the truth is often hard. There are reasons for poverty, but most of them are built on the greed of those with greater wealth. Friends, that’s all of us

 

October 7, 2016
Every time I go down the stairs at home, I see a plaque hanging directly in front of me saying “Faith, Family, Friends.” I am of the conviction that these are without a doubt the three most important things in life. And I also am convinced that these are in order of importance.

On the one hand, one’s spirituality is private. On the other, one’s spiritual life is all encompassing of life. If my spiritual life, my faith, is so personal so as to be unobservable, so unimportant so as to carry no impact in my living, then, I would suggest that there really is no spiritual life. Every decision, all aspects of my life are influenced, shaped, by my faith and desire to live the kind of life that Jesus espouses. Am I universally successful? No, but it is not from lack of desire. And that means that my faith influences and shapes my relationship with my family and my friends.

To be member of a family is to participate in both the most dysfunctional and wonderful relationship in life. Yes, there is dysfunction in every family. And yes, in every family there is some relationship that is wonderful. I wish that all families were entirely loving, but we all know that is not reality. But I believe, that even in the most dysfunctional of families there is some shared love. For most of us, we are most at home when we are with family. Although sociologists tell us this is less true of Millennials than the rest of us.

Which leads us to friends. For Millennials, a group of close friends is the new family unit. After all, you can choose your friends. Whether this trend will continue as they start to have families is still an open question. But friends play a major role in all our lives. Most often, our friends share similar values with us. That is part of the reason we have the particular friends we have. And friends are more apt to participate in honest conversation. We are lucky if we have a handful of friends. We may enjoy the company of many, but our circle of real friends is likely much smaller.

In the end, I think life is best when all three – faith, family and friends – are priorities. But it is even better when family and friends share a common passion for faith.

 

October 4, 2016
There is little work that is more difficult than waiting. Ministers spend hours waiting with people in hospital rooms, waiting rooms and in the home. But ministers spend much less time waiting than the ones who are actually waiting. There is little worse than being told enough information to cause concern, but not enough to know anything definitively. And too often, the information one does receive is inconclusive and unhelpful.

The kind of waiting I described above sounds a whole lot like medical waiting, but it could be almost any kind of waiting. Waiting that is truly intense is waiting attached to the ones we love. It’s not hard to wait for an oil change in our car, but it is very difficult to wait for a loved one going through a chemo therapy session. As much as we value stuff – the accumulations of life – there are very few of us who value that more than we do the people in our lives. But having personal attachments can be very painful and not just because a friendship may end badly. Living with close relationships is a risk, but it is the best kind of living. We laugh with our loved ones and cry with them. And, we wait with them too.

Such living is intense – intense in the most profound way. Watching the Ryder Cup on Sunday viewers were given a picture of passionate play and desire. Never before have I seen the amount demonstrable emotion by the participants. But the truth of their intensity was a fist bump as the competitors walked off the green. Such intensity is superficial and maybe even trivial. The intensity of shared personal concern runs much more deeply.

Facebook seems to have become a place where people share their families, their hobbies and more and more their health. Yes, I know that is part of its purpose, but it still is awkward knowing how to respond when someone shares a deeply personal concern. I am uncomfortable with an emoji response and even with sharing a thought. So often I do nothing, except wait, wait for an update, wait for some news – hoping it is good. And friends Facebook waiting is difficult too. God bless you Paula.

 

October 3, 2016
Yesterday, the denomination I serve, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), observed Reconciliation Sunday. It is a time set aside to consider the role racism plays in our culture. One week a year is not enough, but in a time like the one in which we are living, there is clearly a need for such considerations. While we have elected our first non-Caucasian President, rather than bringing our nation together, it seems to me that it has torn us apart. I don’t think the person, Barak Obama, has anything to do with this phenomenon, any person of color elected to the highest office in this land would have produced similar results.

How does one reconcile the fact that more than sixty years have passed since the civil rights movement, and while we seem to have made great progress, we still have so very far to go? What are the root causes that feed the hatred, mistrust and bigotry that keep us from being a colorblind country? Perhaps we also should ask if being a colorblind country would be a good thing?

We have long held up the image of a melting pot as a metaphor for our country. I have never liked the image. To me, it implies the total transformation of all the ingredients into a indistinguishable slurry. I would prefer the image of a stew, where each ingredient retains some of its originality, while beautifully enriching and harmoniously complimenting one another. To some degree we have done that, but there are still some pursuing a one ingredient soup.

One of my dear friends is an African American young woman. In our conversations I have become clearly aware of the difficulty she faces in being her “black self” in a way that is uncritically acceptable to her non-black friends (including me). I have never considered such a question. I never think about my whiteness and what accommodations I must make to fit in. For all our progress, we are still a very long way from “not being judged by the color of our skin.” If only we could see each other as Children of God.

September 30, 2016

Why is it that music is such a controversial art? Whether in the church, whose history is replete with musical fights; classical music, where cutting edge music has always fostered consternation; or popular music, where the latest rage for youth is a head-shaker for adults, music has always been a battleground.

Those of my generation remember well the the impact of Elvis Presley and the Beatles. Many parents were aghast at the hair, the hips and the beat of the new rock and roll. John Cage was such a person for the classical audience, with his most famous work, perhaps being 4’33”, which was nothing more nor less than four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence. The church has a history of musical warfare: whether any music or only vocal music or the piano or the organ or guitars and rhythm sections should be allowed in worship.

I think there are a couple of things going on here. First and foremost, music has power. It speaks to the heart, the head, the hands and the feet. Second, music is transformative, it can change the way an individual feels or the way a people envision the Divine or their nation. Third, music leads. Rather than responding to the changes taking place in whatever realm it is applied, music is always leading, demanding, inciting those changes.

Anything that has power, is transformative, and leads is going to be suspect. Those in power fear the loss of power. Transformation is frightening, because one can never control where transformation will end up. When the cutting edge is laid bare in new ways – paving the way for cultural, religious or other vistas – there is resistance.

Yes, music is a controversial art. That’s probably what makes it so popular. Humans are always on the look for new ways of doing, of being, of relating – and music offers new ways to approach and understand our humanity’s impulse for advancement. Don’t you just love it!

 

September 28, 2016
Are you the same as you were 30 years ago? Do you weigh the same? Is your hair the same color? Do you still have hair? Do you believe the same things in the same way? Have you changed your position on anything?

Why is it that we are afraid/ashamed/embarrassed to say we’ve changed? Why do we make it impossible for a politician to say that she or he has changed their position on something? We call them out. We call them names. We make it out to be a terrible thing that someone may have learned something and because of that new knowledge they have changed their position.

If you are like me, you value education and you value life-long learning. Going to a workshop or conference, reading a book, engaging in a challenging conversation or taking a class are some of the ways we improve our minds and add to our intellect. I don’t understand how it is that we value growth for ourselves, but refuse to value it for others. We are especially aghast if someone who once held the same position we hold, changes their position while we continue to hold fast to the former position. Friendships have been broken for less. Political careers have been destroyed for less.

My spiritual life is significantly different than it was 30 years ago. I am grateful for that growth/change and value the things I’ve learned. I know that there may be some who think I am now wrong in my understandings, some may even accuse me of heresy, but I wouldn’t go back for anything. It’s not that I was wrong then and right now, it’s just I am in a different place now. I hope your faith life is evolving and changing, deepening and growing. For me, there is little worse than having a stagnant faith, one that is never challenged – one that is closed to the possibility of change, but growth takes work. I hope you are working and I hope you are changing. Change is a beautiful thing, so I hope I am still open to change.

 

September 27, 2016
It’s been a few days since I last posted. In part, I have been busy getting back into the routine of work. In part, it is that I have struggled with what I might say. It is my goal to be apolitical. I don’t think that my taking a position on the upcoming elections is going to sway anyone one way or the other. What it will do is cause some to be less inclined to read what I have to say. And, even if they do read, they will be less inclined to listen to what they read.

I do think that all of life is spiritual. Therefore, our political views and actions flow from our spiritual reservoir. But each of us will have our own perspective, based on our experiences, readings, friendships, work and family and beliefs. Sometimes I think we are misguided by the notion of correctness; that two opposing ideas, actions and opinions cannot both have value. Therefore, if you disagree with me, then you must be wrong and I must be correct. But isn’t our democracy based on the very idea of competing opinions? The two party system so ensconced in this country reenforces the validity of competing ideas each having value.

The problem we have today, I think, is that we have lost sight of that truth. We want it our way or no way. We can’t be right and you can’t be right. There is only one truth and everything else is a waste of time and energy. It’s as if there is only one recipe for chili and if you don’t follow that one recipe, then you are not actually making chili. In fact, you are opposed to making chili! I love chili. I almost always order it when I find it on a menu. They are never the same. Some of them are better than others (according to my tastebuds). But they are all chili.

So (and here’s the bad pun you’ve been waiting for), we need to chill. We need to be better listeners and learners. We need to respect one another, both for who they are and for what they think. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t given thought to their point of view, so to call some one thoughtless or ignorant is both demeaning and arrogant.

Yes, this election, like all elections, is important, but if friends can’t be civil, then who can be?

 

September 23, 2016
“When I gaze into the night skies, and see the work of your fingers…” This morning as I walked back to the house after taking the garbage and recycle to the street, I paused for a moment and looked up. I don’t know why I did it, but I’m glad I did! The sky was deep and dark. The stars shone bright against the coal hued background. It took my breath away. It was unexpected. It was magnificent. It made me think of one of my favorite choir anthems and one of my favorite Psalms. (The Majesty and Glory by Tom Fettke and Psalm 8)

“What is man, that you are mindful of him?” I didn’t intend for the weekly ritual to become a holy moment. I didn’t plan on looking up. I didn’t anticipate being struck by the vastness of creation and the smallness of humanity. It happened so fast. Looking up. Seeing stars painted on an inky back drop. The sound of the anthem in my mind’s ear. The quiet.

In the midst of everyday life the Divine sneaks in and in totally unexpected ways opens our eyes and calls us to recognize our place and our purpose. Often we miss them, but every once in a while the invitation is greater than our distraction. “Alleluia!”

 

September 22, 2016
Black lives matter. As do white lives and non-white lives, police lives and politician lives, even preacher lives matter. All lives matter. We all know that. We all believe that. And we all wish it were reality. Looking through one set of lenses, it is possible to see that this all lives matter thing is true. Looking through another set of lenses, it is easy to perceive that this all lives matter thing is not actually true in some cases.

Perspective is based on one’s reality. Indeed, perception is one’s reality. I can never know what it is like to be an African American or Hispanic and be stopped by the police. That is not my reality. And try as I might, and I am trying, I can never know what it is like to be an officer walking up to a car they have just pulled over. That also is not my reality. But I do know what it’s like be human.

It breaks my heart to see what is going on right now in America. Never in my life have I been in fear of a peace officer. Never in my life have I been in fear for my life. So I can’t really know how I would react were I to be put in either of those situations. But I hope I would find a way to avoid violence. And I wish that for all those who find themselves living or working in fear.

 

September 21, 2016
Do you get tired of waiting? Pretty stupid question, isn’t it! I don’t know anyone who enjoys waiting. There are some who fill up their waiting time with reading or texting or Facebook or balancing their checkbook, but that does not mean they enjoy it.

We are impatient people living in an impatient culture. As I see it, there is almost nothing new out their that isn’t designed to diminish or eliminate waiting. More restaurants have a call ahead option, both for take out and eat in. Supermarkets offer personal shoppers – call in your list and simply pick up your order. More purchases are made online. GPS shows us the fastest route to our destinations, including sending traffic alerts. Computers are faster. Phones can do more. Even online dating has been sped up by Tinder and other apps. Using “apps” reminds me that we have truncated our language to the point that a few letters can replace an entire phrase. (I remember being completely confused seeing “lol” for the first time – the only LOL I knew was Land O’ Lakes!)

The church places a premium on waiting. During two seasons – Advent and Lent – we practice the art of waiting. In doing so we take our place in opposition to a culture that increasingly demands we fill our lives with immediacy. We are not in a hurry for either Christmas or Easter, instead we seek to flavor the waiting with anticipation. It’s not a waste of time to be filled up with mindless drivel, rather the church’s waiting is intentional, inviting reflection, meditation and communal participation. Its goal is not so much to reach the end of the journey, although Christmas Eve and Easter Morning are really big deals. The real goal is to be profoundly engaged in the journey – for a season – and for life.

 

September 20, 2016
So much of life is habitual. Most everything we do, everyday, is a habit. Whether it is brush our teeth, wash the dishes, mow the lawn or attend church. Most of us wake up at about the same time everyday. Most of us have a morning routine we follow faithfully. Most of us drive our cars in the same manner – right handed, left handed, both hands on the wheel. Most of us have a favorite restaurant and a favorite dish. Most of us do laundry on the same day every week.

Now, there are always a few rebels who are constantly trying to mix things up, but they tend to be not very popular and usually unsuccessful. We live habitually because we mostly like routine. Oh, once in a while we might shake it up – put raisins AND nuts in our oatmeal, but mostly we stick with the tried and true.

The problem is, the tried might not be true. The habit may not be healthy. It might not be the best way. And the bigger problem is – habits are hard to change. Think back to your new year resolutions. Are you keeping any of them? Have you ever kept any of them? If you are like me, you never have! The biggest reason for failure? We shoot for too large a change.

I do the dishes in our household. I have a routine. Recently I observed that a small change in routine would make a difference in the ease of the job. But try as I might, I usually am well into my usual routine before I remember that I am now going to wash the plates first, so they easily fit into the drying rack. If I can’t make such a small insignificant change, how can I ever hope to be able to make a significant change?

Most of our habits are really pretty inessential and insignificant. But to borrow a phrase from Alex de Tocqueville, Habits of the Heart are – essential and significant. They are the ones that need constant attention. Marriage. Friendship. Generosity. Fidelity. Parenting. Worship. Spirituality. Integrity. Parenting. Honesty. Health. Service. If we let them go unattended, we will surely make new habits and not habits of the heart.

 

September 19, 2016
I don’t want anyone to know… Usually, that means we are doing something we probably aught not be doing. But not always. Sometimes it simply means we want to keep something secret. Secrets are a big deal when we are children. We seal the secret with a certain handshake, like a pinky shake. When someone would share a secret with us, it made us feel important, privileged – a best friend. Most of the secrets didn’t amount to much. And most of the timeit didn’t remain a secret for long. But in that moment, we were validated as trustworthy and honorable. It felt good.

It seems to me that as we mature that our secrets become fewer and far more sinister. Oh, there are good secrets, like surprise parties, but adult secrets are usually about adult foibles. And most often, we don’t share our secret with anyone. We are afraid of being found out, and afraid of the consequences. Sometimes, however, we live secret lives in legitimate fear of being ostracized, attacked, bullied or even killed.

I imagine, that if one could uncover the perfect love, one might find a couple without secrets, but perfect love is impossible to find. I suppose it might be okay to have a few secrets, but I think far better to be secret-free. To live with secrets is to live in constant fear. To live secret-less is to be free from the anxiety of being a disappointment. It takes great self-understanding and a profound sense of integrity to live sans secrets, and in addition one must have deeply seated humility. It is the humility, the ability to know and admit one’s faults, that frees one for joyous living. And isn’t that what we most desire!

 

September 17, 2016
Is the fastest route always the wisest route? We live in a post-map world. The days of there being college courses whose sole purpose was to explain and attain excellence in map folding, are gone – forever. The days of looking at which town was next on the route are ended. GPS is ubiquitous. It’s in new vehicles and on our phones. You can make a turn of your choosing and the mysterious voice will inform you that they are recalculating your route. But, and it is a big but, GPS is like Orwell’s “Big Brother”, it knows where we are – all the time.

Truthfully, this idea of Someone knowing where I was, was one of the things that made me afraid of Divine GPS, as a youngster. There were just too many times when I didn’t want to be known or to have my location known. I knew I was someplace where my parents would not approve, so I was certain, that if they would be displeased, so would God. And if God was displeased, who knew what might happen?

I have moved beyond that fear, not because I am always in the right place, but rather because I have come to experience Divine undeserved love. Sometimes we think that this love is greater than our greatest wrong, setting us free from responsibility. While it is true that it is greater than our wrongs, the deeper truth is that such love motivates us to make good choices, honest choices, healthy choices, holy choices. Such love offers multiple options for arriving at the place of our greatest good, and it never turns us loose when we make wrong turns, rather, such love is always recalculating the route to Divine Love. Love is only as strong as the lovers. Thank God that Divine Love knows no limits!

 

September 16, 2016
There are almost always warnings before a storm hits. The National Weather Service provides needed information. Meteorologists give moment by moment reports of the latest Doppler Radar. The wind suddenly picks up or an eerie calm settles in. Thunder rumbles in the distance. Clouds turn dark. Lightening flashes. We can pay attention and seek shelter and safety. Or we can ignore the signs in the hope the storm will pass by.

Storms in life are much the same. Parents and partners provide needed information. Friends give us moment by moment reports of what is on their radar. Conversations get heated or an eerie silence fills settles in. Problems rumble in the distance. The outlook turns dark. Tempers flash. We can pay attention and seek counseling and support. Or we can ignore the signs in hope the storm will pass by.

Ignorance is never bliss. To be ignorant is not to be uninformed. To be ignorant is to be informed and choose to disregard the information. Now, if you look the word ignorance up in the dictionary, it will tell you that it is to be uninformed, but that make no sense, when the word ignore means to disregard intentionally. (I think the dictionary is wrong about ignorance, but that’s beside the point.)

So, what if the National Weather Service ignored the incoming storm? What if the meteorologists ignored the Doppler Radar? We expect them to tell us the difficult news. We complain mightily when they are slow to provide updates. But, when we see the storm clouds on a friend’s horizon, how many of us ignore the storm, hoping it will by pass our friend?

Real friends are not the one’s who stay true after the storm hits. Real friend are the ones who, like a lighthouse, show us where the danger is lurking. They are willing to put the very relationship itself at risk, in order to protect their friend. It is not an easy thing to be. Unlike meteorologists whose presence is on the television, real friends are in the room, close enough to feel the burn of anger and denial.

Jesus was right when he said a real friend lays down their life for a friend. But sometimes I think that might be easier than being the one to provide warning before the storm hits. What a difference that would make, if we could depend on our friends to point out the gathering storms.

 

September 15, 2016
Do you ever have days when if it can go wrong, it does? Days when one folly follows another? Days when if you don’t laugh at yourself, you’ll either cry or fume? It’s been that kind of a day in Opsataland.

It started early, in the middle of the night. We had just gotten home after being gone for three weeks. Either the cats were missing us (not likely – they are cats after all), or, they were punishing us (again, not likely – they are cats after all). At one point, all four were in bed with us. At another time, Jenn was petting one cat tummy, as I was another, but I also had one curled up in my arm pit. They day only got more messy. A windshield supposedly fixed before we left, no longer had a small pin hole, but rather a crack from one side to the other. In spite of a reminder text, I forgot not one thing, but two important items for our weekend at Lake Cumberland. When we went to pick up the boat from the repair shop, we discovered the trailer hitch was forty-minutes away. We never did get on the water. Good thing we can try again tomorrow.

Do you ever let truly little things ruin your day? Perhaps they were important for that particular day, but in the big picture, they mean very little? It’s easy isn’t it? If something doesn’t go according to plan, we get bent out of shape. Why do we let that happen? How do we keep it from happening?

Isn’t the problem that we take ourselves too seriously? We make our little world into the entire big world. We lose sight of the insignificance of much of our existence. Now, don’t get me wrong – we are important – important enough to be loved by Divine and human love. Our lives are a Blessed Gift which we have done nothing to deserve. And it is the recognition of the undeserved gifted-ness of life that sets us free from being controlled by the need to control.

I have never been fond of the phrase “let go and let God.” I don’t think God is all that interested in our letting go. I think God is more likely to hope we will keep at it. The call to follow is not a call to let go, it is a call take up. It is a call to keep up. But it is not a call to take over. So when everything is upside down, stand on your head. It’s amazing what you can see and do when you adapt to the circumstances rather than fret over unfulfilled plans.

We didn’t get to the fishing, but we ate fish at a really nice restaurant. It was a very good day!

 

September 13, 2016
I would like to tell you I intentionally chose to not write on 9/11 as a way to honor the day, but the truth is I simply ran out of time. I think it’s safe to assume that if you are reading this, you were alive in 2001 when on the eleventh of September, the skies over the east coast were changed from friendly to terror laden. But what of every one under nineteen or twenty? Either they were young children or not yet born. How do we remember with honestyso as to not do a disservice to those who lost family and friends, nor to the truth that we have used this terrible event to unintentionally perpetuate a world of hatred, warfare and religious bigotry?

We bear some responsibility for the face of the madness in the Middle East today. Whether the justification for the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan was completely valid and truthful remains a question for others to debate, the result has been a destabilization of the area. And, the death and maiming of so many of our young men and women, as well as innocent victims in those countries, gives pause as to how to properly memorialize such a tragic chain of events. To remember the victims in the Twin Towers, Pentagon, Flight 93, and the rescue workers is completely appropriate, necessary and helpful, but to do so without also recognizing the wider costs is insufficient, ineffectual and shortsighted.

Twice in the last four days I have gone through the TSA screening. I’m not against it, but do our children know why we set aside some privacy for the safety of others? Taking off a belt and shoes can be a meaningless act of frustration, but it can also be a humble remembrance of this unimaginable tragedy. Standing in line can be aggravating or it can remind us of the lines of people running down flights of stairs or the lines of rescue workers removing debris passing it from one hand to the next hand.

Services of remembrance are often a helpful way to focus our thoughts for an hour or so on one specific day, but doing service in remembrance everyday would seem more fitting and transformative to me. Might not acts of kindness provide a path toward more peaceful living? Might not such acts, intentionally bathed in remembrance, be a healing balm to what remains an open wound? “Blessed are the peacemakers, for theirs is the province of God.”

 

September 10, 2016
I love college football. I am intentionally naive enough to believe they are playing for the love of the game. I lost my taste for professional football few years ago, actually, I lost it the last time they had a strike. I wasn’t opposed to their right to strike, I just couldn’t see a need for it.

Anyway, right now Jenn and I are sitting in Starbucks, waiting to head to the airport, watching Ohio State on her iPad. I remember the first time I ever saw a college football game on television, in color. It was the last time the Gophers played in the Rose Bowl. Yes, I was alive, but I was only seven. The Rock County State Bank arranged for a color tv to be in their community room and invited the community to come watch the game. My family all went. We had never seen a color television.

It’s amazing how things have changed. When I played football, it was a mark of competitiveness to get your “bell rung.” No one took it very seriously. You were expected to shake it off and get back in the game. By the time I was coaching, things hadn’t changed much. If you could follow a moving finger with your eyes and knew who the opposition was, you were sent back into the game.

We’ve learned a lot since then. A concussion is now taken very seriously. It can take months or years to recover and no one yet knows with any certain the long term effects. I do love my football, but I am more and more wondering about the safety of the game. At what age should a young person be allowed to play? And when should they put on pads?

All of life changes as we learn and mature. What once was “fun” is now seen as stupid. What once was safe is now clearly not safe. And so we face questions on a daily about how prior beliefs and prejudices must be revisited in the light of new knowledge and discovery. I think the response to such revelations should be humility – the honest admission that we don’t know everything and never will. It is an amazing world we live in and it will surely continue to amaze.

 

September 9, 2016
Belief and faith are not synonymous. I think we often get that wrong, and when we do, we confuse people. Belief is a thought, a hypothesis, an idea. Faith is an action, a proof, a relationship. A belief is something we claim, but don’t possess. Faith not only implies a relationship, it depends on one.

I can believe a chair will hold me, but until I have a personal relationship with it – sit in it – I do not have faith. Once the chair/gluteus maximus relationship has been established, then we have moved beyond belief into actual faith. Now, my faith may be misplaced, should the chair fail, and my belief will then have been proven wrong. But if the chair holds…

Too often, I think, church types talk about belief, as if believing something or in something is the answer to a life of meaning. But meaning is impossible outside of relationship. Scripture tells us that even the powers of evil believed that Jesus was the Christ. But did they have faith – a relationship? No!

I am much more interested in the how of one’s life than the what. Does one live in relationship is the eternal question, I think. And if one does live in relationship – in faith – then that life will carry significant weight. But if one claims all the right beliefs, but never moves from thought to action, one’s life will never be truly meaningful. The call of God has always been relational – it has always been an invitation to follow.

 

September 8, 2016
How does one define success? The most toys? The biggest house? The newest car? A degree from an Ivy League school? A promotion? A gifted child? Fifth Avenue clothes? Early retirement? A “tiny house?” Living off grid? Eating a plant based diet? Home schooling? Having a car with 200,000 miles? Your only phone is landline?

How one defines success is often times very different. Nothing like stating the obvious! But one’s definition of success will certainly play out in one’s choices and lifestyles. For some, success is living more simply. Doing more with less. Leaving a small carbon footprint. For some, success is business related. Working at the up and coming company. Advancing regularly. For some it is moving in the right circles. Country club membership. Gated community’s. None of these are necessarily wrong.

One of the reasons most people, perhaps even most Christians, don’t really like Jesus very much, is because of his definition of success. Jesus turns everything upside down. The rich will be poor. Now who wants to be poor? The first shall be last. Who wants to be last (unless it’s in the lutefisk line!). The meek will inherit the earth. When was the last time you even heard that word (except maybe at church)? Blessed are the peacemakers. Has there ever been a peacemaker who didn’t die on the job?

I’m not sure of much, but I am certain of this, we all need to take a good hard look at ourselves in the success mirror. Oh, we might like what we see on the surface of our lives, but I’ll bet most of us don’t really like to look much more deeply. Having the desire for a different definition for personal success, does not mean one must beat oneself up over the past, it simply means making a small course change. Success is a lot like golf – one bad swing need not destroy the round. There is always a next…

 

September 7, 2016
Strange? It’s strange how the mind and memory work. During the night, as the waves crash on the rocks just below our widow, it sounds exactly like the howl of a winter storm outside my childhood window. I know it’s not wind. It’s waves. I know there’s no snow. It’s sea water. But still, I hear the sounds of a snow storm in the crashing of the waves.

Our minds often play tricks on us and our memories are often a bit blurred. We are sure we have seen that person before, but no matter how much we turn it over and over in our minds, we can’t place them. We get a quarter of the way through a novel before we realize we’ve read it before – sometimes we finish it before it dawns on us. We know we know the answer to the question on the test, but for the life of us we can’t recall it. We see a friend we know well, but can’t make a proper introduction because their name has flown out the window.

But our minds and our memories are wonderful things. It doesn’t bother me that the waves sound like the wind. I find it comforting. It does bother me when I can’t put a name and a face together, but I am comforted that I can remember the face.

I think we waste much too much energy beating ourselves up over the workings of our mind and memories. So what if we remember things the way we want to remember them? So what if we forget the name of a street or a phone number? Our phones can tell us those things! But Siri can never hear a wave crashing on the rocks and recall the sound of a blizzard.

When Jesus invites us to remember as we sit together at the Communion Table, I feel certain he doesn’t expect us to remember the same things in the same ways. We are unique. We have distinctive minds. We see things through our own lenses and store them in our individual memory banks.

The great Albert Schweitzer writes: “He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same words: “Follow thou me!” and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.”

 

September 6, 2016
I was hoping for something inspirational today. Some beautiful scene. An unusual animal. A surprising thought. I wish I could tell you about it, but try as I might, this was a rather boring day in Hawaii! I’m not certain I thought it possible to say that, but there it is, it was a boring day in Hawaii. We played golf on an uninspiring coarse. The views were okay, but nothing special. We were paired up with a rather unremarkable third player – Leo. Retired. From Phoenix. Moved here 12 years ago. That’s about all I can tell you. Then we did the laundry. Didn’t lose any socks.

It was a great day. I was with Jenn – in Hawaii. We played golf. Before coming here, I never even dreamed of coming to Hawaii, let alone playing golf here. Looking one way we could see the Pacific Ocean. Looking the other we could see the mountains. We had a relaxing drive. The speed limit on the 30 mile trip never got higher than 50 mph. Traveling at that speed there is time to look around and see the stunning scenery. Lava flows. Wild flowers. Goats on the edge of the road. A mongoose. Stark. Lush. So much empty space. So much to fill the day.

Life is a series of choices. We can choose to be bored. We can choose to be thrilled. There is always beauty around us – human made – Creator made. We can choose to to see that beauty or we can choose to bury our heads in our phone. We choose to be happy and we choose to be sad. We choose how we will react (or respond). Angrily. Excitedly. Ignore. Engage. Create beauty. Create chaos.

What kind of day are you choosing? Me? I’m in Hawaii with my love!

 

September 5, 2016
Been thinking a little about the day we celebrated today. I am reading a historical novel set during Prohibition, just after the millionaires of the day had violently put down the fledgling labor unions. Also been watching as nurses in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul have gone out on strike over health insurance and other issues. And in the back of my mind, I hear the voices of protesters in Wisconsin and other states where the legislatures and governors have weakened the unions through legislative action.

Now, to be honest. I have been a union member in the past, the Minnesota Education Association. So chances are, I am biased in favor of the the right to organize as a way to achieve fair wages, health care and safe working conditions.

To have a day honoring labor, when laborers are under attack, seems a bit of a paradox. Yes, I will admit that unions have not always been honest in their treatment of non-union workers, and they have abused their power, negotiating contracts that truly were destructive to the notion of a fair day’s work for a fair day’s wage. But, history has proven that left to its own devices, owners will pander to their shareholders rather than treat employees with fairness and respect.

So, we are left with a broken system. Employers and unions are equally responsible for creating an atmosphere where outsourcing became a reality. They are equally responsible for spending years producing less than stellar products. Walter Brueggemann, noted Hebrew Scripture scholar, has for his entire career sought to help Christians see their participation in the powers and systems at play in producing a world where the discrepancy between the rich and un-rich grows exponentially daily. I’m wondering if this might not be a good day, to not celebrate either labor or management, but rather jointly remember and confess our failures and commit to producing a more just and fair world for everyone.

“The alternative to the free market consumer culture is a set of covenants that supports neighborly disciplines, rather than market disciplines, as a producer of culture. These non-market disciplines have to do with the common good and abundance as opposed to self-interest and scarcity. This neighborly culture is held together by its depth of relatedness, its capacity to hold mystery, its willingness to stretch time and endure silence.” (Brueggemann)

 

September 4, 2016
The ocean looks nearly calm as one looks out toward the horizon, but as the waves crash on the shore one realizes how deceiving looks can be. We see our best friends as having the perfect marriage – stable, loving, financially secure, great kids – but underneath we don’t see the raging storm of physical, emotional or spiritual abuse. Basically, we see what we want to see.

When on vacation, seeing what we want to see is a good thing. We’ve been to Volcano National Park once already, but we didn’t see all that we want to see, so we are going back. But vacation is different than daily life. While much of what we see on vacation may serve as a parable or a metaphor for our daily living, we often only look at sweeping vistas and wondrous flora and fauna. But it’s not our life’s vistas that are the real problem.

As the old saying goes, “the devil is in the details.” It’s the little things that actually matter most. One can imagine and envision broad horizons for one’s life, but if one cannot put together and implement a plan for achieving those goals, one will never even get close to attaining them.

Sometimes we might need help with seeing a bright future, but more often, if not always, we will need help with fleshing out and enfleshing that future we envision. Never is this more true than in our spiritual lives. I don’t know anyone who wants to be good person, a moral person, a person of integrity who is successful on their own. The temptations are too great and the resistance is too small. We need one another. We need a supportive community. We need the guidance of wisdom and the creativity and support of others. You may find such a community elsewhere, but the community intentionally designed for such a purpose is the church. If you don’t have one, find one. If you don’t know where to begin, ask your friends and neighbor’s.

 

September 3, 2016
Where there’s smoke there’s fire. I don’t know how often I have heard that said, but sometimes, I think, there is just smoke. I guess I most often think it when I am thinking about the “hot” churches of the day. They seem to be on fire, but often, when one looks a bit deeper, there is mostly just smoke. I don’t believe the church was meant to be smokey, I believe it was meant to be on fire. Why is it, that almost always when there is a fiery charismatic leader, that time demonstrates that their schtick was not smoke and fire, but rather smoke and mirrors.

I don’t wish to name names, nor do I wish to cast aspersions on any particular congregation, but, just because there is a lot of smoke, does not mean there’s fire, producing the smoke. Too often, it is just a smoke machine meant to blur the true picture.

Yesterday we went to Volcano National Park. We hiked through a lava tube and walked to the edge of two craters. Before we began, we went to the park restaurant to make dinner reservations. When we walked into the lobby, we saw a stunning vista of a large smoking volcano. It was so perfect that it didn’t seem real – it looked like a perfect photo. When we came back for dinner, a foggy mist hid the crater and the smoke. It was as if it was no longer there. Of coarse it was still there, but everything around it hid it’s actual fire and heat.

Isn’t that the way it usually is? All the busy-ness, the activities, the smoke obscures whatever it may be that fires our hearts – the manner of our living – or, of being church? Rather than focusing on our passion we focus on the periphery. We meet to meet. We talk to talk. But communicate? Not so much. We run here and run there. We deliver our kids to their activities. We do gestures of kindness. But in our honest moments, we know it all to be smoke.

Sometime during dinner, the mist and fog lifted just a little. Not enough to show the crater. Not enough to show the barren landscape. Just enough to see red and pink and yellow – the reflection of the actual fire. It wasn’t big. It didn’t dominate the vista. In truth, if you weren’t looking for it, you very well might have missed it. Sounds like faith doesn’t it? Unless we move past the smoke we never feel the fire. And isn’t it the fire that warms the heart and makes life grand!

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September 1, 2016
Some of the most beautiful paintings are painted in the sky. Tonight it is painted in magenta, deep purple, orange, blue and white. I would like to describe it for you, but I don’t have the words. It’s not the face of Jesus nor the hand of God, but it does portray the Holy.

Art is like that. Whether it be music or sculpture, poetry or portrait, blown glass or stained glass, art portrays the Holy. I suppose it is in the pure creative genius of the artist that we hear the heartbeat of the Holy. They see things we can’t imagine, but in their imagining we actually do see it. On a sheet of lined paper notes appear that tell a story for the hearing. On a canvas an image comes alive. In the hands of a potter clay becomes a vase or sculpture. With heat and air sand becomes a molten masterpiece.

The artist, I think, most nearly resembles the Holy – the creation becoming a creator. Although they may not embrace the Holy themselves, they still serve as an icon – a window through which we glimpse God. “Then the Lord God formed adam from adamah, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the human became a living being.

It’s the breath, isn’t it? One can look at, touch or hear a work of art and sense whether the artist breathed life into it or not. If not, it is just notes on a page or paint on a canvas. But when they breathe their breath into their creation, it becomes a living and life giving thing in the eyes of the beholder. It’s the difference between Muzak and Mozart. One a living breathing life force, the other nothing more than aural clutter.

Today I give thanks for artists who by their gifts display the glory of the Painter of the sky.

 

August 31, 2016
As you who are reading regularly can probably tell, I am thinking a lot about control…or lack thereof. I am more of a spontaneous kind of person (I think). If I see/think of something that seems interesting, I’m ready to go. It does not matter one whit if it was on the day’s schedule or not. That does not, however, mean I like being out of control – never have, never will.

As I read one of my vacation novels this morning, the main character claimed that her life was fluid. It really caught my attention as this person is extremely highly functional – at a genius level – all the while dealing some quirks which make social interaction very difficult. She prefers working alone in front of her multiple computer monitors than being with people, whether it be socially or work related. Her assertion that her life was fluid seemed almost absurd. Never was a life more organized and structured. So how could her life be fluid?

I’m sure she did not mean her life was liquid, as being without defining structure. Rather, I think, she was speaking of all the forces at play which push her life this way and that. Work often plunges us down a steep walled canyon; keeping our attention singularly focused on one project or the next. Friends, often meaning well, encourage us to broaden our horizons and experience things that are just not on our radar. Family members try to keep us locked into birth order roles, so as not to rock the family system – even when they know the system is severely broken. And churches? Churches seem to excel at pigeonholing people. If ever you take a job or position, you had better know that you will be doing it for the rest of your life. And of coarse – doing it the way it has always been done!

I don’t know about you, but I have changed over time. I feel certain that my former choir students at STA would say I was a control freak. I probably was. And I feel certain that some of you who know me now, may still think I am one. But I think I have learned to let go. Well, maybe not let go, but learned to loosen my grip. I am surrounded by extremely competent people who know better than I how to do that for which they have been called. While I may still act like the canyon walls, holding the flow in, I hope I am more like a river delta, always adapting and making room for change – more like jazz and less like a motet.

The hymnist writes:
My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentation,
I catch the sweet, though far-off song
That hails a new creation.

No storm can rock my inmost calm
While to the Rock I’m clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?

 

August 30, 2016
There really is very little we can do when it comes to the weather. We can’t make it rain and we can’t make the sun to shine. We can’t cause the clouds to form or make them disappear. We can’t cool the heat of summer, nor can we warm the cold of winter. What we can do is prepare for it.

Much of life is like the weather. We don’t have much influence over the raging streams which wash over us. The writer of Ecclesiastes observes that there is a time for every purpose under heaven. And she or he goes on to mention an extended list of those times: be born-to die, etc. We may like to think that we are in control, but we are not. We are reactors. We react to the love of a partner. We react to being offered a new job. We react to the miss hit golf shot. We react to the growing up of our children. We can’t control how fast they grow or who they will love.

Now, being a reactor does not mean we are powerless. We have the power to shape our children with the things we teach them and the maturity we show them. We have the ability to help create a more congenial work place. We have daily opportunity to make someone smile, help someone in trouble or bring pain and inflict injury. Perhaps the One Christians claim as Messiah was the greatest reactor of all time. He saw a women crippled with arthritis and he helped her stand straight and proud. He found a man, naked and living in a cemetery and he clothed him and gave him dignity. When challenged to give in and give up, he refused and showed us what it means to be a true friend. It’s not a bad thing to be a reactor, but it is to react badly.

Quick return to the weather. They are predicting back to back hurricanes here on the Big Island. As much as I’d like to do something about it – you know – send it elsewhere so we get in our golf game tomorrow, I think reacting will be the better choice. So, we are tuned to the weather reports and warnings and will do whatever the smarter more experienced folk do. It should be an interesting holiday weekend!

 

August 29, 2016
Life is full of regrets. Often these regrets relate to choices we have made; things we have done and things we have left undone. Sometimes our regrets relate to life-long dreams, dreams left unfulfilled. And sometimes our regrets are about things we have had very little control over.

I regret that I did not know Don Dennison better than I did. Of course he was a colleague at St. Anthony Village High School. But he was an old timer and I was a new timer. At some point we discovered a common passion for the music of Gilbert and Sullivan, a passion shared by Roger Bjorklund. We attended a few performances of their operettas together. And he was the Athletic Director for a few of my coaching years, so I knew him as my boss. But it was on a trip to a conference at Breezy Point Resort where I have my fondest remembrance. He was in a wheel chair by then, and during a break from meetings, I pushed Don along one of the paved trails through the woods. Don was in his element. Pointing out this tree and that plant. He was so excited. It was like watching a kid in a candy store. I miss Don, but I will always cherish that hour spent in his “candy store.”

And I regret that I did not know John Chenault better. Dr. John was a fixture in Frankfort and a long time pastor at the church I am privileged to serve – First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Frankfort, Kentucky. Jennifer and I were fortunate to purchase Dr. John and Mary Elizabeth’s home, as he was relocating to Richmond, Virginia at the same time we were moving to Frankfort. We have talked on the phone a few times over the years, had I have heard literally hundreds of stories, but my best memory is sitting in the living room of the house we were about to purchase and listening to Dr. John regale us with the family tree at First Christian. What a memory for familial detail!

Dr. John died today and will be missed by all who knew him. But his memory and legacy lives on. Thank you, Dr. John, for sharing this historic pulpit with me. Rest in peace.

 

August 28, 2016
I was intending to write a post yesterday, but by the time we got settled in to our room, I couldn’t figure out what the appropriate date was. It was today for me, but today for me was yesterday for you, so if it was today for you, it was tomorrow for me… So, after a little thought, I decided to wait until it was the same day for all of us.

A redwood forest needs to be experienced. You can hear about it. You can read about it. You can even see photos and paintings of it. But until you have stood under the cathedral like canopy, your eyes drawn heavenwards, you don’t really know anything about these beautifully monstrous amazingly tall trees. There is a quiet unlike any other. It’s not silence – it’s quiet. Deep in a valley, there’s hardly any rustling wind. There are a few birds, but less than you might hear in your back yard. Perhaps, just perhaps, the quiet is the sound of ancient wisdom – a thousand years young – whispered inaudibly, that creates the quiet? Perhaps it is the sound of the same Spirit moving over the face of the deep?

A sacred place. A holy space. Some would call it a “thin place,” where the natural worlds and the spirit worlds draw intimately close. Moses found a thin place where a bush appeared to be ablaze. Elijah experienced a thin place while hidden in the cleft of a rock. Peter, James and John discovered a thin place on the mount of transfiguration. Where have you felt the rustling of the spirit? If you haven’t found your thin place, don’t worry, it will find you.

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August 26, 2016
The ingenuity of the human creature is truly amazing. Yesterday we had our first view of the Golden Gate Bridge. There are probably greater “wonders” of the human mind and technical ability, but I am not certain what it would be? Now, I don’t like bridges. Am I afraid of crossing over them? Perhaps not, but they intimidate me and make me nervous. I was glad we went under it rather than over it.

We viewed the Bridge up close as we passed under it on our way out to do some whale watching. The trip began nicely as it didn’t take long to spot some dolphins at play along side the boat. Whales were a bit harder to find. However, when we did finally hear someone yell, “there she blows,” I got my first glimpse of the wonder of creation’s largest mammal. The spout of air. The arch of the back. Occasionally the flip of a mammoth tail. One could not but be in awe of these graceful dark skinned creatures.

The word “awesome” has become so ubiquitous as to be rendered meaningless. You name it, and some will likely say, “that’s awesome!” I’ve gotten to where I can hardly stand the word. Now, “awe,” on the other hand is a word much less used and therefore much more powerful. To be filled with awe is to be rendered speechless. It is to recognize majesty beyond what one can imagine. To be in awe is to recognize our own smallness and embrace another’s greatness. Most often, I stand in awe at the Creator’s handiwork. Carving gorges using rivers and streams. Forming islands by erupting volcanoes and lava flows. And fashioning beasts of the sea and the fowl of the air from the rich soil of the earth. “From soil we are made and to soil we return.”

We’re going to see redwoods today. So I am certain that once again I will be standing in awe of the majesty and grandeur of these ancient trees. I hope you will experience awe today, perhaps in a baby’s giggle or an eagle’s flight. Perhaps a soaring skyscraper or a graceful work of art. Perhaps you will see an anthill with the ants working in unison. There is awe all around us if we will just slow down and give in to our senses.

 

August 24, 2016
Sarah McLachlan has a song that uses the line “hold onto yourself.” She wrote it while on a mission trip to Africa, where she worked with AIDS patients. Each time I hear that phrase, I think about how difficult it is to hold on to ourselves – our best selves. We are tempted from every side to be something other than our best selves.

Sometimes it is a cosmetic change that is being put forth. Quick and easy weight loss. Wrinkle removers. Hair replacement. Botox. Implants. The truth, of course, is that the “yearning” for cosmetic change never has superficial o